Wi-Fi, which by some unconfirmed accounts stands for  wireless fidelity , has changed the way computers and many other electronic devices work together. With it, anyone can create a wireless network in a home or business easily and at a relatively small cost.

Wi-Fi technology allows computers, printers, cell phones and a host of other devices to interact completely without connecting cables. Some new Blu-ray disc players and other high definition home entertainment equipment can even use the technology to access interactive internet-based features. While many electronic devices have Wi-Fi functionality built in, lots of computers must have it added after the fact. Wireless adapters are typically the easiest and least expensive way to add Wi-Fi technology to a computer.

Wi-Fi Standards

Wi-Fi is a trade name owned by an international trade organization known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. The organization promotes and certifies that submitted products comply with the group s very specific standards. More technically, Wi-Fi is based on specifications developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, or the IEEE. The term Wi-Fi specifically refers to IEEE 802.11 technology and the two terms are synonymous.

Though 802.11 is the overall specification for Wi-Fi, it has many subdivisions that specify requirements such as quality of service or security. Each subdivision is designated by a lower case letter following the 802.11 designation. There are four core technology subdivisions that are frequently seen when referring to generational improvements in Wi-Fi technology. They are noted as Wi-Fi a, b, g and n.

The initial 802.11 standard could only carry about 2Mbps of data and so was essentially not useful in a practical sense. Interestingly, 802.11a and 802.11b were released at the same time. The 802.11a standard is, for the most part, a more capable standard than 802.11b so many people believe that the b standard was actually released before a. Below we discuss some of the characteristics of each standard en route to the Wi-Fi of today.

  802.11 b operates on the 2.4GHz frequency band. It has a maximum bandwidth of 11Mbps and is the slowest Wi-Fi standard. It s also the most susceptible to interference. In its favor, it has much longer range than 802.11 a. It was popular when first released because it was less expensive than the alternative.

  802.11 a is much faster than the b standard, transferring up to 54Mbps. It s also much less sensitive to interference from other wireless devices and appliances. On the downside, it has shorter range than the b standard. This made it more expensive primarily because it required more access points to cover a given distance.

  802.11 g was successful at combining the best feature of the Wi-Fi a and b standards. It utilizes the 2.4GHz band but can achieve data transfer speeds of 54Mbps. The signal range is good and is not as easily obstructed by obstacles as 802.11a. Operating in the 2.4GHz range could still result in some interference from other devices.

  802.11 n is the current Wi-Fi standard. It was finalized in October 2009 after being in draft form for about three years. Wi-Fi n represents a major improvement over all of its predecessors. Using multiple wireless signals and antennas, its MIMO technology, Multiple-input/Multiple-output, increases data transfer speed to up to 450Mbps under ideal circumstances, greatly increases range and reduces dead spots that were characteristic of prior versions.

Wi-Fi n allows for use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands. Many Wi-Fi routers can use both; some allow for the selection of one band or the other while the best of them can operate in both ranges simultaneously. The best Wi-Fi client devices, such as wireless adapters, can operate in either band but not at the same time. The 5GHz band is particularly well suited for transferring high bandwidth information and avoiding interference.

Wi-Fi technology puts wireless networking within reach of just about every business and individual household. Our wireless adapter review site will help in choosing the best device for your particular needs. For the best in wireless routers, we ve got you covered there, too.

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