I suppose by now everyone has seen different business’ and coffee joints offering “FREE WI-FI Hotspot!”. I guess that’s why I was surprised when a friends wife asked me recently what “WI-FI is?”. Hmm… “Well, the “Wi” Mean Wireless and the “Fi” means… Um.. Good question actually! She was happy to have stumped “MrGroove” and that’s when I decided the topic deserved an Article 😉
What does the name mean?
So, WI-FI (or WiFi) as it turns out isn’t an abbreviation or short term lingo for anything. When the technology was originally invented by “The Wi-Fi Alliance” (more geeks), they decided “Wi-Fi” sounded better than IEEE 801.11 so that’s what they picked. They also thought it was catch and sounded a bit like the well known Hi-Fi technology. Thus, Wi-Fi was born!
What does Wi-Fi do?
Wi-Fi is used just like a regular network connection, except without the wires. Most often (but not always) it’s used to connect a computer to a high-speed internet connection either inside your home or at a Wi-Fi Hotspot.
And what is a Wi-Fi Hotspot?
A Wi-Fi Hotspot is just the term used to describe an area or business (coffee shop, bus, etc…) that has receptive range to a wireless broadcasting device, typically called a Wireless Router. You can set up your own at home easily by purchasing a wireless capable router and following it’s setup instructions however normally, if you subscribe to a High-Speed Internet service, the Modem/Router/Switch they provide usually has Wi-Fi built-in so be sure to verify this before you go out and waste some cash. If for some reason however, your ISP is cheap and didn’t provide a Wi-Fi Capable device when they hooked up your service, when shopping for one it’s important to note that Wireless N (or 802.11 N) offers the most range, speed and stability at the time of my writing this article. Not all devices are compatible with N so G (802.11 G) is another good alternative.
How do I use Wi-Fi?
Before you can access a Wi-Fi network, you will need a wireless network card / chip. Most modern Laptops, Notebooks, Mobile Computers (what are they called now days????) and pocket devices (Mobile Phones, iPhones, even the Nintendo Wii…) includes a built-in wireless chip. You can also buy a wireless card or USB device and plug it into your device. With Wi-Fi being so common these days, there are a “Lot” of options.
Next, you need to find a public Wi-Fi hotspot, or in other words; an unprotected wireless network being broadcasted over the short-distance Wi-Fi radio. Once you’re in range you should easily be able to connect to it as most modern devices will alert you that a WiFi network is available. You can also connect to a private or secure hotspot (WEP,WPA, WPA2), but that will require you knowing the proper keys / password.
Is a WiFi Network Safe?
Before connecting to any network, you should know the risks and advantages of doing so. Typically, with most unprotected networks, it goes like this.
- Convenient and sometimes free High Speed Connection to the Internet
- Faster than Dial-Up, Edge or even 3G
- VPN and HTTPS are still mostly secure
- If your device has a firewall (and it’s enabled), you should be ok (99% of the time).
- Virus Attack / Device Hacking – Depending how your Mobile device / PC is configured, other people might be able to attack your device while it’s connected to the Wi-Fi.
- Data Theft – Unencrypted data such as surfing your GMAIL account can be captured as it’s being transmitted back and forth between the Wi-Fi Network and on the Wi-Fi Network.
- Account Theft – Webmail, MySpace, YouTube, FaceBook etc… and other login information can be stolen by other people on the network if it’s not encrypted.
- Connecting to a secure hotspot will help to greatly reduce these disadvantages, such as a WPA, or WPA2 network however a Security free Wi-Fi is highly unusual.
How about a groovy Wi-Fi How-To?
Okay, so lets say you’re at coffee joint and they offer free Wi-Fi. How do you connect? Well, some PC’s come automatically configured to connect to any nearby wireless network. In which case you’ll connect to it without even thinking. If not, then typically you’ll have a small wireless computer icon on the bottom right taskbar of your screen with a red x near it. (Windows based systems)
1. Double-Click the Wireless Icon in your taskbar.
A new window will appear, on this screen you will be able to select a wireless network to connect to. Typically business’ will name their networks after their company. Personally I would connect to whichever network has the most green bars as that shows a strong connection.
2. Click the desired network then Click Connect.
3. A warning screen might appear warning you about unsecure networks. Click Continue Anyway.
All done! It should now say you are Connected, and the little red x should be gone from your taskbar icon.
Enjoy the Groovy Wi-Fi, and if you are still having trouble connecting, feel free to post your questions in our free Community Tech Support Forum.