What is WiFi?


WiFi is a family of communication protocols developed for wireless local area networks. The protocols are largely based upon the IEEE's 802.11 standard and subsequent revisions to it, though several proprietary extensions to the standard are in widespread use. While WiFi is most commonly associated with providing wireless Internet access to personal and laptop computers, the technology is slowly being adopted by cellphones, PDA's, portable gaming devices, and many other consumer electronic devices. WiFi compliance testing and product certification is handled by the WiFi Alliance, an umbrella group of wireless equipment manufacturers.

WiFi has many benefits over traditional wired networks, however it's drawbacks must also be taken into consideration when planning a local area network for wired or wireless use. WiFi enables Internet access in places unaccessible or impractical by use of cable such as existing structures that cannot be modified, large undeveloped lands such as construction zones, and even swimming pools. Untethered Internet access allows a VOIP telephone or PDA to be used throughout a home or office, and there is no danger of pets or rodents gnawing a cable. Additionally, the cost of a single consumer-grade WiFi router may be significantly less that the switches and wiring that large offices with many endpoints would otherwise need. However, WiFi cannot yet offer the high data transfer rates that cables can, and they are more susceptible to interference. Battery life of portable components is also reduced due to the need of powering the wireless transmitter and encode/decode processing power. Finally, wireless transmissions are vulnerable to interception via malicious third parties who may spy on data, or even change it en route. Common WiFi security schemes such as WEP and WPA have proven crackable and cannot be relied upon.

The name WiFi is short for 'wireless fidelity', a play on the term 'Hi-Fi' used to describe high fidelity audio reproduction. Although the WiFi Alliance takes the official stance that the terms are not related, the group's documentation makes several references to the use of 'WiFi' as shorthand for 'wireless fidelity'. The name was invented by Interbrand Corporation as a marketing buzzword for the new technology, as the official IEEE 802.11 specification on which WiFi is based did not have a name. The term 802.11 was deemed too technical for the average consumer that the technology is marketed for, hence the need for a name. Interbrand also designed the WiFi Alliance's logo such that it could be easily identified both in print and molded into a product's plastic casing. This allows the logo to be used to identify WiFi Alliance approved products, avoiding consumer confusion and ensuring device compatibility.

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