A Wi-Fi (also known as WiFi) is a wireless network technology which allows WiFi enabled devices to communicate with each other, and also share the Internet without wired connectivity. Wi-Fi is based on 802.11 IEEE network standard which uses radio frequency signals to transmit data. The distance supported by Wi-Fi network depends on the type of Wi-Fi radio and antenna in use, and whether the environment is open or enclosed within walls and bricks. As the distance between the Wireless Access Point (WAP) and mobile device move farther away, the radio signal weakens and the transmission data rate slows down until the signal is not strong enough to be usable. The performance of Wi-Fi network also varies depending on the type of standard employed by the Wi-Fi devices, namely 802.11 (a), (b), (g), (n) and (ac).
Wi-Fi allows you to share your home Internet with other devices in your home such as Smartphones, Tablets and entertainment devices such as Chromecast, Roku and other Smart devices without incurring additional cost. Connecting your wireless devices to your home network allows you to share printers, documents and multi-media files. Wi-Fi also prevents you from hard-wiring physical wires from room to room making it convenient to add more devices, and allow you to roam around the house without having to disconnect from the network.
Setting up a Wi-Fi network is fairly easy to do today. You only require a wireless router and devices supporting Wifi access point. Most smartphones, tablets and mobile devices support Wi-Fi access out of the box. The desktop PCs may require wireless adapters which you may add with PC board, or USB adapters. If you have a larger home (size greater than 3,000 sq foot), you may want to add a wireless extender or deploy a Wi-Fi mesh system.
Wi-Fi uses 802.11 wireless LAN Standards as described in the section below. It uses 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and some devices support dual-band supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz devices. The devices supporting lower 2.4GHz band allows longer range but support lower speeds while devices supporting 5GHz band supports shorter range with higher speed. It is also cheaper to build devices in 2.4GHz frequency than the 5GHz. A recent improvement in technology allows higher frequency (5G) devices to support longer range comparable to 2.4GHz devices, but as the distance moves farther the signal weakens and the throughput slows down.
The original wireless LAN standard developed by the IEEE in 1997, which supported maximum speed of 2 Mbps. The technology uses unregulated radio signal frequency of 2.4 GHz. Due to slow speed, this technology is no longer used.
In 1999, the original 802.11 WLAN was expanded as 802.11b to support maximum speed up to 11 Mbps. This is comparable to traditional wired Ethernet (10 Mbps), and operated in same unregulated 2.4 GHz radio band.
IEEE created a second expansion as 802.11a which supported up to 54 Mbps running in 5G radio frequency band. Due to higher cost to manufacture 5G devices over 2.4G, 802.11a was adopted in business networks whereas 802.11b was adopted in home market.
Due to running in different frequencies, 802.11a and 802.11b devices such as a router and wireless adapters are not compatible with each other unless they are hybrid 802.11a/b.
A newer 802.11g technology emerged in 2002, which is backward compatible with 802.11b running in 2.4 GHz frequency. The 802.11g supported up to 54 Mbps speed with greater range.
In 2009, the "Wireless N" technology known as 802.11n was released. The 802.11n was an improvement over 802.11g which supported up to 300 Mbps with multiple wireless signals and antennas (called MIMO) instead of 1.
The newer 802.11ac supports dual band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) frequencies, and compatible with all predessor 802.11x technologies. The maximum speed supported by 5G band is 1.3 Gbps and 450 Mbps on 2.4 GHz frequency.
The 802.11ad technology uses unlicensed 60 GHz frequency to deliver up to 2 Gbps speed. Due to its frequency range, it has limited range and difficulty penetrating solid objects.
The 802.11ay is an amendment to 802.11ad which delivers up to 8 Gbps with 30-100 feet range. The 802.11ay is backward compatible with 802.11ad and uses the same 60 GHz frequency.
The table below compares 802.11 technologies with their speed and benefits.
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