Understanding Wi-Fi Networks

Posted: October 13, 2009 in System Information, Wi-Fi

You’re on the road and you’ve found a location with a Wi-Fi broadcast device that your

mobile computer can talk to. A Wi-Fi broadcast device is variously referred to as an access

point, an AP, or a hotspot.

With your access point located, you’re ready to sit right down, establish a wireless

connection, and start reading your email and surfing the Web, right? Not so fast, partner.

It’s really important to understand that being able to “talk” with a wireless access point just

means that you can “talk” with a wireless access point. It doesn’t mean that you can connect

to the Internet unless the wireless access point is itself connected to the Internet.

So if Starbucks or whoever wants to provide you with the chance to surf on their turf while

you sip that latte, Starbucks needs to provide an Internet connection. Generally, this

connection is wired, and uses a cable or DSL (digital subscriber line) telephone line for high


A high-speed wire brings the Internet to the location, and a Wi-Fi access point broadcasts the

wireless Internet connectivity to wireless devices.

Between the Internet connection and the Wi-Fi access point, there also needs to be some

hardware designed to connect with the Internet and share the connectivity. There are a whole

lot of different ways this can be done, depending on many factors. For now, you need to

understand that connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi involves four things:

1. Your Wi-Fi device (the client)

2. A Wi-Fi broadcast unit (the access point)

3. Network connectivity hardware (such as a router and modem)

4. The actual Internet connection (usually via cable or DSL)


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