Wi-Fi, Voodoo, and the Mysterious Wireless Internet Connection

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The trouble with Wi-Fi at homeIt’s magical watching a TV show on your tablet.  Unlike watching on a TV set, you’re free to roam your house and yard, untethered and fancy free.  Using the magic of Wi-Fi, The Mindy Project somehow gets beamed from your Internet router to your tablet like Captain Kirk to the Enterprise. This is, of course, in a perfect world, or in the case of Star Trek, a perfect universe. But we know perfection is hard to come by, especially in the tech world. Caveats, excuses, and then downright shoulder shrugging often explains why something won’t work.  It’s kind of like trying to understand the reasons why a 14-year-old boy thought it was okay to take the family car for a quick spin.  Tons of words being spoken, but none of them make any sense.

Bad Excuses

Now, I don’t mean to be Veruca Salt here, but it is extremely frustrating when I’m watching a movie on my iPad via Wi-Fi and it suddenly stops working.  I didn’t move my body, the iPad didn’t crash, no one unplugged the Internet router, but somehow Wi-Fi stopped working. When Captain Kirk had trouble beaming back up to the Enterprise, Scotty usually had an explanation. But at 11pm on a Tuesday night, Scotty can’t tell me what the heck just happened.  It’s frustrating, unpredictable, and has caused me to put Wi-Fi into the category of Things I Cannot Control.

I surrender.

That said, I’m going to explain in general terms how Wi-Fi works and why it sometimes doesn’t work. But understand this: Wi-Fi is more fickle than a teenager deciding what to wear. Frankly, I think there’s a Voodoo doctor somewhere who cackles away each night, randomly deciding which Wi-Fi to mess with this time.

Voodoo Dr

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is quite simply the name of a specific “lane” on the wireless highway that sends information from your Internet router to any of your wireless devices.

Let’s back up for a second.  Remember that old school, tin can telephone?  You take two tin cans and attach them with a string. You talk into one can as your friend holds the other up to an ear to hear your voice.  In this case, the string is the “lane” sending your voice which is the “information.”  Wi-Fi is similar, but the “string” is invisible. This invisible string represents the  frequency at which Wi-Fi operates.

Anything sent through the air, be it the light from your flashlight, the signal to your TV, or the music on the radio travels on the wireless highway.  This wireless highway is broken up into lanes. Each one of these lanes is a frequency.  As you can imagine, as the lane gets crowded, traffic builds up, and everything slows down.  Just like the 405 in Los Angeles.

Frequency Lanes

 

Why does Wi-Fi stop working?

Here’s where it gets not only confusing, but also utterly mind boggling.  You see, the “lane” that Wi-Fi uses seems to be the most unreliable, mysterious, and finicky thing ever created by tech-kind. In fact, I might go so far as to say it is completely ill-conceived.  Wi-Fi in it’s most perfect form should take your Internet connection and make it available wirelessly throughout your environment.  In most cases, this environment is your home.  However, and this is a big however, a few things interfere with the reliable transmission of Wi-Fi. Stuff like:

  • Water
  • Metal
  • Stucco
  • Brick
  • Concrete
  • Other Wi-Fi signals

Do you notice anything funny about the items on this list?  Yep, they are all the building blocks of your home and neighborhood!  In addition, the human body is made of about 60 percent water, making our very bodies something that interferes with Wi-Fi signal.

I find this extremely odd.  Why create a wireless highway for an environment whose very presence weakens it?  It’s like creating a superhero but putting him on a planet that nullifies his powers.  Hey Superman! Come live in my home of kryptonite!

Why Wi-Fi

This is why I surrender to Wi-Fi.  I have come to terms with the fact that when I settle down to a binge-watch of Fargo it might work, it might not work, or it might start working then stop working…for no apparent reason. Maybe the concrete shifted in my wall. Maybe I drank too much water that day. Maybe my neighbor’s Wi-Fi is stronger than mine that day.  Whatever the reason, I stopped fighting it. Nowadays, I just put down the iPad, grab my iPhone (turning off Wi-Fi!) and stream my show on the 4G network.  Seems strange that a wireless tower sending a cell phone signal from miles away works better than the Wi-Fi from my Internet router a mere 30 feet away.  But then again, that Voodoo doctor has got to be thousands of miles away and the magic seems to work just fine on me.

Maybe that’s it! Voo-Fi!

Image credits: Jonathan Grossman

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