What Does WiFi Mean?

Wi-Fi is the name of a wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide high-speed network and Internet connections. This Webopedia “Did You Know…” article explains Wi-Fi technology: how it works and misconceptions about Wireless Fidelity.

Wi-Fi is the name of a wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide high-speed network and Internet connections.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization that owns the Wi-Fi (registered trademark) term specifically defines Wi-Fi as “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, but 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 Does Wi-Fi Technology Work?

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.

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).

What is Wireless Fidelity?

A common misconception is that the term Wi-Fi is short for “wireless fidelity.” This is not the case. Wi-Fi is simply a trademarked term meaning IEEE 802.11x. The false notion that the brand name “Wi-Fi” is short for “wireless fidelity” has spread to such an extent that even industry leaders have included the phrase wireless fidelity in a press release. You’ll also find references to Wi-Fi being short for wireless fidelity on a number of well-known and respected technology-focused publications and websites. The truth is, Wi-Fi isn’t short for anything and it never was.

The current confusion seems to stem from a brief period early in the days of the Wi-Fi Alliance when a regrettable tag line was added that stated, ‘The Standard for Wireless Fidelity.’ This was not part of the original name and was not created by Interbrand, but it was added as an afterthought in an attempt to help users make sense of the new and somewhat nonsensical word, Wi-Fi.

~ Wireless Fidelity Debunked (courtesy Wi-FiPlanet)

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal is a freelance writer, covering business and Internet technology for more than a decade. She is also managing editor of Webopedia.com.

This article was originally published on July 14, 2010

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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