What is WiFi: IEEE 802.11

The technical name for WiFi is IEEE 802.11 & it is key to everyday life enabling data to be transferred to devices from a router / hotspot.

WiFi IEEE 802.11 Includes:
Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 introduction     Standards     Security     How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi     Wi-Fi Bands     Router location & coverage     How to buy the best Wi-Fi router     Wi-Fi boosters, range extenders & repeaters     Wi-Fi wired & powerline extender    

Wi-Fi wireless connectivity is an established part of everyday life. All smartphones have it incorporated into the phone enabling low cost connectivity to be provided. In addition to this, computers, laptops, tablets, cameras and very many other devices use Wi-Fi including many Internet of Things, IoT sensors and nodes.

To enable different items incorporating wireless technology like this to communicate with each other, common standards are needed. The standard for Wi-Fi is the IEEE 802.11 standard. The different variants like 802.11n or 802.11ac are different standards within the overall series and they define different variants. By releasing updated variants, the overall technology has been able to keep pace with the ever growing requirements for more data and higher speeds, etc.

Typical modern WiFi router: Linksys WRT1900AC
Typical modern WiFi router

WiFi 802.11 Networks

There are two types of WLAN network that can be formed using a WiFi system: infrastructure networks; and ad-hoc networks.

The infrastructure application is aimed at office areas or to provide a "hotspot". The WLAN equipment can be installed instead of a wired system, and can provide considerable cost savings, especially when used in established offices. A backbone wired network is still required and is connected to a server. The wireless network is then split up into a number of cells, each serviced by a base station or Access Point (AP) which acts as a controller for the cell. Each Access Point may have a range of between 30 and 300 metres dependent upon the environment and the location of the Access Point.

The other type of network that may be used is termed an Ad-Hoc network. These are formed when a number of computers and peripherals are brought together. They may be needed when several people come together and need to share data or if they need to access a printer without the need for having to use wire connections. In this situation the users only communicate with each other and not with a larger wired network. As a result there is no Access Point and special algorithms within the protocols are used to enable one of the peripherals to take over the role of master to control the network with the others acting as slaves.

WiFi hotspots

One of the advantages of using WiFi IEEE 802.11 is that it is possible to connect to the Internet when out and about. Public WiFi access is everywhere - in cafes, hotels, airports, and very many other places.

Sometimes all that is required is to select a network and press the connect button. Others require a password to be entered.

When using public Wi_Fi networks it is essential to act wisely because it is very easy for hackers to gain access and see exactly what you are sending: user names, passwords, credit card credentials, etc. If the network does not sue encryption, then all the data can be seen by potential hackers.

Typical modern WiFi router: Netgear R8000
Typical modern WiFi router with multiple antennas

Key Wi-Fi topics

When looking at what is WiFi, there are some key topics to look at. There are both the theoretical and practical issues to looking at dependent upon what is needed: