(wireless Local Area Network) A communications network that provides connectivity to wireless devices within a limited geographic area. "Wi-Fi" is the universal standard for wireless networks and is the wireless equivalent of wired Ethernet networks. In the office, Wi-Fi networks are adjuncts to the wired networks. At home, a Wi-Fi network can serve as the only network since all laptops and many printers come with Wi-Fi built in, and Wi-Fi can be added to desktop computers.|
Wi-Fi LANs do not require line of sight between sender and receiver. Wireless base stations, called "access points," have antennas that transmit and receive a radio frequency within a range of 30 to 150 feet through walls and other non-metal barriers.
Machines Can Be Retrofitted
Old laptops can be upgraded with Wi-Fi adapters via a PC Card slot or USB, and desktop computers in distant rooms can be made wireless by plugging a wireless adapter into a USB port.
The Wireless Router - All In One
A wireless router is the foundation network component in most homes and small offices, combining wired and wireless in one unit. It is a router, switch and access point. The router forwards Internet traffic to the modem, which is attached to the cable company's coaxial cable or the telephone company's DSL phone line. The switch interconnects four wired and any number of wireless devices, and the access point is the wireless base station.
Since all wireless and wired computers are interconnected, they can exchange data with each other for backup and file sharing. For details of the wireless standards, see 802.11. See Wi-Fi hotspot, router, LAN switch, wireless broadband and WPAN.
In the larger office, routers, switches and access points are stand-alone devices. An access point is like a cellphone tower, but its signal distance is measured in feet, not miles.
Router, switch and access point. The Internet/WAN port routes signals to the cable or DSL modem. The four computer ports are the wired part of the switch, and the antennas are part of the access point. (Image courtesy of Belkin Corporation, www.belkin.com)