Wi-Fi Basics

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Wi-Fi is a type of computer network. Most commonly used for accessing the Internet, it is also quite popular in homes, offices and as a perk in hotels, libraries, airports and other public places. Many communities have started to offer a municipal wireless network, which enables all parts of the city to support wireless connectivity.

Wi-Fi for Beginners
(Image 1: Wi-Fi Alliance, Images 2, 4, 5, 6: MorgueFile.com, Image 3: Chris Capelle)

Both home and office Wi-Fi networks serve the same purpose: to allow users to share resources and communicate with each other. These resources include printers, file servers and Internet connectivity Public wireless networks (also known as hotspots) generally only allow users to access the Internet and to send and receive email.

Now anyone can surf the Web outside

At the epicenter of all wireless networks is a router. A router is a device that broadcasts a wireless signal, which allows users to join the network. While some public hotspots are free to join (libraries, coffee shops), others are password protected, and require the user to enter a password in able to join.

A typical wireless router

Wireless networks can be identified and joined by using software that is usually part of the computer's operating system. (It is important to note that the computer must be equipped with wireless capabilities.) However, in some instances, the owner of the network has configured the wireless router to not broadcast the network name.

Off to find a Wi-Fi hotspot...

One of the largest benefits of wireless networks is the convenience factor: by not having to hardwire a building, both time and money are saved. In many instances, wiring an office or home can be next to impossible, and wireless is an easy way to avoid that. In office environments, Wi-Fi allows visitors to instantly join a network, without having to be concerned with finding the appropriate wires and convenient network jacks.

Network wires are old school

Because public Wi-Fi hotspots aren't necessarily secure, it's quite possible for a hacker to obtain personal or sensitive data when working wirelessly. Therefore, any transactions that require entering passwords, or can potentially expose any financial or other private information should be avoided when working on a public wireless network. Likewise, if you host a wireless network, it should always be password protected.

Beware of hackers in public Wi-Fi hotspots
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