Given the importance of WiFi in our daily life’s, it is rather careless that we know so little about the technology that enables us to connect other countries and their people across oceans without a recognizable delay. Here are 8 great WiFi facts that you need to know!
WiFi Does Not Mean “Wireless Fidelity”
You probably think that the term WiFi means “Wireless Fidelity”. Well, technically this is incorrect.
WiFi was simply designed as a logo and a trademark by Wi-Fi Alliance back in 1999 without any additional meaning. Brand names are created to conjure an association in the consumer’s mind and the product is the definition.
Wi-Fi and its letter pattern simply sounded catchy similar to hi-fi which means “High Fidelity”. The link between Wi-Fi and hi-fi does not necessarily must results in “fi” meaning “fidelity”.
Wi-Fi Alliance recognized after the adoption of the name and logo, that it did look like an abbreviation but did not have any a plain explanation. They agreed on including a tag line along with the logo and brand name: “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity”.
The public associated the tagline with the brand name now. Phil Belander (WECA Chairman) said back in the days:
“Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for anything. It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.
This tag line was invented after the fact. … The tag line was invented by the initial six member board and it does not mean anything either. … And “Wireless Fidelity” – what does that mean? Nothing. It was a clumsy attempt to come up with two words that matched Wi and Fi. That’s it. By the end of 2000, the pointless tagline was dropped and the term “wireless fidelity” was supposed to disappear into the ether. But somehow, as the Wi-Fi brand gained traction, so did the mistaken notion that it was “short for wireless fidelity.”
WiFi Uses Radio Waves
Do you still remember your science class? Then you might recognize the following image:
Our WiFi uses radio waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation that includes gamma rays, x-ray, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, microwaves and radio waves. All of our internet-capable devices use wireless adapters to translate all the data requested into a radio signal which is being transmitted via an antenna.
The radio waves sent out by the device are being received from the connected wireless router. The wireless router translates that radio wave back into data that then can be sent to the internet via a physical connection.
The process is reversed if the device receives data from the internet via a wireless router. Essentially, that is how all internet-capable devices connect to the internet. Nevertheless, there are a few distinctions to be made between the different wireless technologies.
WiFi Originated in Hawaii in 1979
The early predecessor of WiFi was launched in Hawaii in 1979. The ALOHAnet was a computer networking system that allowed the first public demonstration of a wireless packet data network.
Just like any other product launch, the timing is very important nevertheless how advanced the technology may be. It took 20 years before AT&T Corporation and NCR Corporation developed WaveLAN, which is now being considered the true predecessor of WiFi unlike the ALOHAnet. Following after, the IEEE 802.11 wireless protocol has been released.
WiFi Has Its Own Language
Anytime we communicate, we have a set of internalized rules of the language we speak. It enables us to effectively communicate as long as we speak the same language.
Just like us, machines need certain standards and protocols defined to be able to communicate with each other. With the introduction of WiFi in 1998, the standard IEEE 802.11 was used as a standard for wireless networks to communicate.
Since then, we have seen several other standard versions being released: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac. All of them have their own, individual problems and advantages over the other standard related to costs, signal interference issues and data speed. However, newer standards are made to be backwards compatible with older standards.
Apropos of signal interferences, microwaves can affect the performance of your WiFi network. In general, microwaves are not dangerous for the human body and are mostly contained within the microwave oven. The power of the microwaves is at around 1,000 watts which is roughly 10,000x stronger than the radio waves from the WiFi network.
That would not be any issues under normal circumstances but modern microwave ovens and wireless router operate at the same frequency: 2.45 GHz. This causes interferences which results in a loss of internet connection or very slow loading speed. The easiest solution is to avoid placing the wireless router near a microwave oven.
You Can Connect Too Many Devices To The WiFi
You might have seen it before but you could not have been bothered. Internet-capable devices are transmitting their data at a set of certain frequencies. Most common are 2.4GHz or 5GHz with a very distinct differences. In short, 5GHz is faster at sending & receiving data at a shorter distances only compared to 2.4GHz.
The 2.4GHz frequency covers over greater distances than 5GHz but at a slower speed. The simple rule is that the further your data signal can travel, the lower the frequency of the wireless signal. High frequency (5GHz > 2.4GHz) cannot penetrate walls and floors as well as lower frequency resulting in a lower range.
Why is it so important for you now?
Most common devices use 2.4GHz nowadays which results in overcrowding that one specific channel frequency. Overcrowding can cause connectivity issues and slow internet speed. Here are a few examples of devices that use the 2.4GHz: Microwaves, Cordless Phones, Baby Monitors, Garage Door Openers.
Additionally, the 5GHz frequency offers more accessible channels (23) than 2.4GHz (3). The more devices are connected to the same channel, the longer it takes for the devices to receive/transmit the data → slow internet speed.
What should you choose now?
If all you care is about the speed, then 5GHz is the best choice as it is faster than the common 2.4Ghz frequency. If you rather prefer range over speed, then pick 2.4GHz. If you have a lot of internet-capable devices at home and constantly experiencing connectivity problems or other issues, the 5GHz is the better option.
WiFi Can Travel Far… Very Far
In the last section I’ve already mentioned how frequency is the one factor how far your WiFi signal can travel. In reality, it depends on a number of different factors: Output, refraction, reflection and antenna.
Common wireless router can transmit their radio waves at a range of about 30m (100ft) which should be far enough to give you a strong signal in the next room, right? Radio waves can pass through most of all materials (walls, floors) but can experience issues with materials that conduct electricity.
Our bodies can conduct electricity due to the amount of water fluid inside of us. Just us standing there can cause interference with the radio waves transmitted by the wireless router. However, the WiFi technology has the ability to be transmitted over much further distances.
The Swedish Space Agency transmitted a wireless signal for the first time over a distance of 310 km in 2002. It was not the ordinary wireless router that you have sitting in your house but instead they used a high-power amplifier with 6 watts power output. Furthermore, they had no walls between transmitter and receiver. Nonetheless, it was a great achievement for the technology back then.
If you’d like to extend the range of your wireless network at home, then purchase a WiFi extender. They simply increase the range of your wireless network and act as an extra access point for your internet-capable devices at your home / office.
WiFi Is Not 100% Secure
Our WiFi networks are really secure as long as the users are not acting careless. With the recent data breach at Facebook and Cambridge Analytics, we should start to consider taking data privacy serious as long as it is under our control. WiFi has developed and improved over time and comes with an industry standard security package which the consumer can rely on with their eyes closed.
Why does it matter for you?
Older wireless routers used simple security protocols which made it super easy for hackers to get connected to your wireless network, steal all your data including passwords, “run” away and commit identity theft. Since the introduction of WiFi, the security protocols have undergone multiple upgrades. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) was the first WiFi security standard being released in 1999.
Over the years, several security flaws were discovered and by 2005, the FBI gave a public demonstration where they showed how easy it was with freely available software to crack the wireless networks. Officially, there have been no upgrades on the WEP standard since 2004.
In 2003, WiFi Alliance published the WPA (WiFi Protected Access) standard as a replacement for the vulnerable WEP. New significant changes have been the integrity checks and the TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol). The integrity checks helped to determine if a hacker has entered the network or requested data has been changed between the wireless router and the receiving device.
TKIP was introduced to offer a more secure encryption than then WEP standard. In 2006, the WPA2 further improved the network security protocols with the introduction of the AES algorithm and the CCMP (Counter Cipher Mode with Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol).
WPA2 is now so secure, that the hacker must need already access to the network before start attacks onto other devices connected to the same network. Therefore, hacking threats are almost entirely limited to enterprise level networks only.
Here are the network security protocols ranked ordered from most secure to least secure:
- WPA2 + AES
- WPA + AES
- WPA + TKIP/AES (TKIP as fallback method)
- WPA + TKIP
- Open Network
Internet of Things Applications Does Not Like WiFi
Internet of Things is penetrating the market more and more over the recent years and we are still using our WiFi technology to connect to those devices. WiFi is being used to send high amounts of data over a relatively short distance at a high energy consumption rate.
Internet of Things devices usually only have small sensor that do not need to send big amounts of data but instead only a few bits and bytes here and there.
Additionally, this data must be send over much longer distances. If you local wireless networks already experiences interference and slow internet speed with a few internet-capable devices connected to it, then it sounds impossible to connected thousands of Internet of Things to a single access point.
That being said, there are two new WiFi standards currently under development: WiFi HaLow (802.11ah) and HEW (802.11ax). WiFi HaLow is focusing on the range and power concerns for Internet of Things and the HEW (High Efficiency Wireless) builts on top of the HaLow to add further feature for the Internet of Things.
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