What Is WiFi, How It Works & How to Get It

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WiFi is something you probably use in your everyday life, but do you know what WiFi is or how it works? Understanding your Internet connection can help you troubleshoot issues and keep your WiFi network safe from hackers. Our guide makes sure all of your questions are answered.

What Is WiFi and How Does WiFi Work??

WiFi is the wireless technology connecting computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices to the Internet. This allows your devices and many others to communicate with one another, forming a network.

WiFi transmits data using radio waves. A device's wireless adapter converts data into a radio signal and sends it out via an antenna. This process works both ways: the router also takes data from the Internet, converts it to a radio signal, and sends it back to the device to be decoded. This process allows web users to download and upload information from the Internet; even submitting URLs via your browser counts as two-way communication.

Why is WiFi Called WiFi?

WiFi is commonly mistaken for Wireless Fidelity. The WiFi Alliance, formerly known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, was looking for a more user-friendly term for technology that followed IEEE 802.11 (the technical name for WiFi) specifications. A brand consulting agency commissioned by The WiFi Alliance, Interbrand, developed the term.

Do You Need Internet for WiFi?

Without an Internet connection, you won't be able to get WiFi. The Internet refers to the service you receive through an ISP (Internet Service Provider). Consider the Internet to be like a set of railroad lines. To run, a train needs tracks; it's nearly useless without its rails. The train can leave the station at full speed once the rails have been laid. Consider your Internet to be the tracks and your WiFi to be the train; you can't access WiFi without an Internet connection, just as you can't move without tracks.

How Do I Get WiFi in My Home?

To set up WiFi in your house, you'll need either a modem linked to a wireless router or a wireless gateway, which combines a modem and a wireless router into one unit. The modem connects to the Internet, while the router sends out a WiFi signal that allows your devices to communicate with one another and with the Internet. WiFi-enabled devices use the signal to connect to the Internet.

What are the Different WiFi Speeds?

WiFi standards have continuously evolved since 1997. These updates always resulted in further coverage and higher speeds. Here's a closer look at WiFi speeds throughout the years and how exactly they differ from one another:

802.11b

The original 802.11 standard used the same 2.4 GHz (gigahertz) frequency as 802.11b. It had a theoretical maximum rate of 11 Mbps (megabits per second) and a range of up to 150 feet. Although 802.11b components were affordable, the standard's maximum speed was the slowest of all the 802.11 standards.

802.11a

802.11a operated in the 5 GHz frequency spectrum, which was less congested and less susceptible to interference. With a theoretical maximum of 54 Mbps, it had substantially more bandwidth than 802.11b.

802.11g

802.11g, like 802.11a, had a theoretical maximum rate of 54 Mbps. However, like 802.11b, it operated on the congested 2.4 GHz band. This subjected it to the same interference issues as 802.11b. Consumers benefited from the improvements in WiFi speeds and coverage with 802.11g. Wireless routers were improving as well, providing more power and better coverage.

802.11n

WiFi became considerably quicker and more dependable with the 802.11n standard. It had a theoretical maximum speed of 300 Mbps and could potentially reach up to 450 Mbps. 802.11n had multiple inputs and outputs, resulting in a significant increase in data without the need for more bandwidth. 802.11n used both 2.4 GHz bands and 5 GHz bands.

802.11ac

WiFi speeds saw an incredible increase with 802.11ac, ranging from 433 Mbps to several gigabits per second. 802.11ac worked exclusively with the 5 GHz band. Using a feature called MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple inputs, multiple outputs), 802.11ac also increased the overall data speeds of an entire network.

802.11ax (WiFi 6)

802.11ax, or WiFi 6, is the most current WiFi standard. WiFi 6 is capable of a theoretical maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps (gigabits per second) and provides better support for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. A single router can handle more antennae with WiFi 6 than previous standards. This means a single router may connect to many devices without sacrificing bandwidth.

If you're curious about the current speed of your WiFi network, use our WiFi speed test for a quick, easy way to measure your Internet service provider's performance.

How to Turn on WiFi

How to enable your WiFi varies by device, but these general instructions for turning on WiFi on your computer will guide you. First, be sure your router or modem is turned on and connected. If you can't find any answers here, it's always helpful to refer to your computer's manual.

  1. Turn WiFi switch or button to "On" - Some computers have a WiFi switch that can be turned on or off. If your computer has such a switch or button, you’ll most likely find it on the front or just above your keyboard. The button will typically light up in blue or green when it’s on
  2. Turn on WiFi in settings - After checking that your WiFi is switched on, read your user manual to switch on WiFi in the computer's settings. You’ll most likely find this in a chapter labeled "Network Settings" or "Wireless Settings." Once this is turned on, you should be able to connect your device to WiFi
  3. How to Secure WiFi - Unlike cable connections, WiFi systems extend outside of your home. Once the password for access is shared with people outside of your residence, it's hard to manage who has access to your WiFi network. To combat this, you should consider making some changes and establishing routines that protect you from hackers and more. Below are some easy but essential tasks to enhance the security of your WiFi network
  4. Choose a password that's hard to guess - Complicated passwords that are hard to memorize are good for network security. You'll inevitably give the WiFi password to other members of your household and guests, but you don't have power over who they might share that password with. Creating a complicated password makes it more difficult to share and also impossible to guess. Make stealing your WiFi a little harder for people trying to guess your password by using a string of random characters
  5. Change your network name - In most cases, your router’s manufacturer will install the same administration software on all routers. This uniformity makes things easy for hackers. Free network detection software allows hackers to see all the surrounding wifi networks. Each network is identified by a name, called an SSID. Manufacturers often put the brand name and model in the SSID. If you got a router from your Internet service provider, they might have changed the SSID to show their company name. If you purchased the router yourself, the SSID will probably include the manufacturer name or model. A hacker will use the information to find the default username and password. When changing the name of your network
  6. Keep your router's firmware updated - The manufacturer should update your firmware automatically. However, just as you should make a habit of changing your WiFi password monthly, you should also frequently check for updates. Another alarm for firmware updates are news stories that cover major virus attacks. Viruses spread because a hacker found a security weakness. Hackers can detect these weaknesses sometimes before technology companies. The outbreak of a virus will cause the manufacturer to check its firmware to see if it's not vulnerable to an attack. So, check on the website of your router’s manufacturer whenever these news stories break to see if they have issued a security patch
  7. Turn on your firewall - Chances are that your wifi router has a firewall on it, but have you turned it on? Browse through your settings to see if you can find your firewall. If not, visit customer support pages on your manufacturer's website. Wifi routers operate a system called a Network Address Translation (NAT). This address means each computer on your network is given an address only known to the router. The NAT system prevents hackers from picking out the addresses of individual devices on the WiFi network. Unfamiliar users are blocked before they ever reach your devices

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