Wi-Fi is the name of a popular wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections. A common misconception is that the term Wi-Fi is short for “wireless fidelity,” however this is not the case. Wi-Fi is simply a trademarked term meaning IEEE 802.11x.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization that owns the Wi-Fi (registered trademark) term specifically defines Wi-Fi as any “wireless local area network (WLAN) products that are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) 802.11 standards.”
Initially, Wi-Fi was used in place of only the 2.4GHz 802.11b standard, however the Wi-Fi Alliance has expanded the generic use of the Wi-Fi term to include any type of network or WLAN product based on any of the 802.11 standards, including 802.11b, 802.11a, dual-band, and so on, in an attempt to stop confusion about wireless LAN interoperability.
How Wi-Fi Works
Wi-Fi works with no physical wired connection between sender and receiver by using radio frequency (RF) technology, a frequency within the electromagnetic spectrum associated with radio wave propagation. When an RF current is supplied to an antenna, an electromagnetic field is created that then is able to propagate through space. The cornerstone of any wireless network is an access point (AP). The primary job of an access point is to broadcast a wireless signal that computers can detect and “tune” into. In order to connect to an access point and join a wireless network, computers and devices must be equipped with wireless network adapters (See “How Wireless Networks Work” in the “Did You Know…” section of Webopedia).
Wi-Fi is supported by many applications and devices including video game consoles, home networks, PDAs, mobile phones, major operating systems, and other types of consumer electronics. Any products that are tested and approved as “Wi-Fi Certified” (a registered trademark) by the Wi-Fi Alliance are certified as interoperable with each other, even if they are from different manufacturers. For example, a user with a Wi-Fi Certified product can use any brand of access point with any other brand of client hardware that also is also “Wi-Fi Certified”. Products that pass this certification are required to carry an identifying seal on their packaging that states “Wi-Fi Certified” and indicates the radio frequency band used (2.5GHz for 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11n, and 5GHz for 802.11a).