What is Wi-Fi? From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Wi-Fi (or Wi-fi, WiFi, Wifi, wifi), short for "Wireless Fidelity", is a set of standards for wireless
local area networks (WLAN) currently based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications. New standards
beyond the 802.11 specifications, such as 802.16 are currently in the works, they offer many
enhancements, anywhere from longer range to greater transfer speeds.
Wi-Fi was intended to be used for wireless devices and LANs, but is now often used for Internet
access. It enables a person with a wireless-enabled computer or personal digital assistant to
connect to the Internet when in proximity of an access point called a hotspot.
Wi-Fi vs. cellular
Some argue that Wi-Fi and related consumer technologies hold the key to replacing cellular
telephone networks such as GSM. Some obstacles to this happening in the near future are
missing roaming and authentication features (see 802.1x, SIM cards and RADIUS), the
narrowness of the available spectrum and the limited range of Wi-Fi. Despite such problems,
companies like Zyxel, SocketIP and Symbol Technologies are offering telephony platforms
(Central Office replacements and terminals (phones)) that use Wi-Fi transport.
Many operators are now selling mobile internet products that link cellular wireless and Wi-Fi radio
system in a more or less transparent way to take advantage of the benefits of both systems.
Future wireless systems are expected to routinely switch between a variety of radio systems.
The term 4G is occasionally used for Wi-Fi, the implication being that the bandwidth and
capabilities offered are already greater than those promised by the 3G cellular telephone
The main difference between cellular and Wi-Fi is that cellular system use licensed spectrum, and
Wi-Fi is implemented in unlicensed bands. The economic basis for their implementation is
therefore completely different. The success of Wi-Fi has made many people look to unlicensed
spectrum as the future of wireless access, rather than spectrum licensed and controlled by large
Commercial Wi-Fi services are available in places such as Internet cafes, coffee houses and
airports around the world (commonly called Wi-Fi-cafés), although coverage is patchy in
comparison with cellular:
T-Mobile provides hotspots in many Starbucks in the U.S;
Pacific Century Cyber Works provides hotspots in Pacific Coffee shops in Hong Kong;
a Columbia Rural Electric Association subsidiary offers 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi service across a
3,700 mi² (9,500 km²) region within Walla Walla and Columbia counties in Washington
and Umatilla County, Oregon;
Other large hotspot providers in the U.S. include Boingo, Wayport and iPass;
Sify, an Indian internet service provider, has set up 120 wireless access points in
Bangalore, India in hotels, malls and government offices.
Vex (http://www.pointernetworks.com.br) offers a big network of hotspots spread over
Brazil. Telefónica Speedy WiFi (http://www.speedywifi.com.br) has started its services in
a new and growing network distributed over the state of São Paulo.
While commercial services attempt to move existing business models to Wi-Fi many groups and
communities have set up free use Wi-Fi networks. Many have adopted a common Peering
agreement (http://www.freenetworks.org/peering.html) in order that each network can openly
share with each other.
Many municipalities have joined with the local community groups to help grow the free Wi-Fi
network, many have not. Some community groups have built their Wi-Fi networks on volunteer
efforts and donations.
For more information, see wireless community network, where there is also a list of the free Wi-fi
networks one can find around the globe.
OLSR is one of the protocol used to set up free networks. Some networks use static routing;
other, such as Wireless Leiden rely completely on OSPF. Most networks rely heavily on open
source software; or even publish their setup under an open source license.
Advantages of Wi-Fi
Unlike packet radio systems, Wi-Fi uses unlicensed radio spectrum and does not require
regulatory approval for individual deployers.
Allows LANs to be deployed without cabling, potentially reducing the costs of network
deployment and expansion. Spaces where cables cannot be run, such as outdoor areas
and historical buildings, can host wireless LANs.
Wi-Fi products are widely available in the market. Different brands of access points and
client network interfaces are interoperable at a basic level of service.
Competition amongst vendors has lowered prices considerably since their inception.
Many Wi-Fi networks support roaming, in which a mobile client station such as a laptop
computer can move from one access point to another as the user moves around a
building or area.
Many access points and network interfaces support various degrees of encryption to
protect traffic from interception.
Disadvantages of Wi-Fi
Use of the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band does not require a license in most of the world provided
that one stays below the 100mWatt limit and one accepts interference from other;
including interference which causes your devices to no longer function.
Legislation is not consistent worldwide; most of Europe allows for an additional 2
channels; Japan has one more on top of that - and some countries, like Spain, prohibit
use of the lower-numbered channels. Furthermore some countries, such as Italy, require
a 'general authorization' for any WiFi used outside the owned premises; or require
something akin to an operator registration. For Europe; consult http://www.ero.dk for an
anual report on the additional restriction each European country imposes.
The 802.11b and 802.11g flavors of Wi-Fi use the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is crowded
with other devices such as Bluetooth, microwave ovens, cordless phones (900 MHz or
5.8 GHz are, therefore, alternative phone frequencies one can use if one has a Wi-Fi
network), or video sender devices, among many others. This may cause a degradation in
performance. Other devices which use microwave frequencies such as certain types of
cell phones can also cause degradation in performance.
Power consumption is fairly high compared to other standards, making battery life and
heat a concern.
The most common wireless encryption standard, Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP, has
been shown to be easily breakable even when correctly configured. Although newer
wireless products are slowly providing support for the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
protocol, many older access points will have to be replaced to support it. The adoption of
the 802.11i (aka WPA2) standard in June 2004 makes available a rather better security
scheme for future use — when properly configured. In the meantime, many enterprises
have had to deploy additional layers of encryption (such as VPNs) to protect against
Wi-Fi networks have limited range. A typical Wi-Fi home router using 802.11b or 802.11g
might have a range of 150 ft (46 m) indoors and 300 ft (92 m) outdoors. But about 10
US$ and an hour of building will get you an antenna that can go much further.
Rogue access points could be used to steal information transmitted from Wi-Fi users.
Wi-Fi and free software
BSD (FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD) have had support for most Adapters since late 98.
Code for Atheros, Prism, Harris/Intersil and Aironet is mostly shared between the 3
BSDs. Darwin and Mac OS X, despite their overlap with FreeBSD, have their own unique
Linux: As of version 2.6, little Wi-Fi hardware is supported by the Linux kernel. However,
see the Adapters section below for pointers.
Wi-Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance (formerly the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance),
the trade organization that tests and certifies equipment compliance with the 802.11x standards.
Unintended use by outsiders
Many business and residential users do not bother to protect their network, which can therefore
also be used by people just outside the building, see warchalking and wardriving. Configuration is
not hard, and used to require both knowledge and effort. Many users of wireless networks won't
even realize they are "trespassing" since the drivers on their laptops automatically seek out the
nearest access point. Early attempts to provide security included changing or suppressing the
Service Set Identifier (SSID), and only allowing wireless cards with specific MAC addresses to
connect. These methods were easily defeated by hackers armed with packet sniffers and MAC
address spoofing cards. Today owners of access points use one of the many encryption
standards available to protect their network (for example, WEP).
Liquid crystal display television with integrated WiFi port.
WiFi Tutorial (http://www.wirelessnetworkstutorial.info/ieee802.11/) Includes information
on Architecture, Standards (802.11 b/a/g), Security and Comparisions
Wi-Fi Alliance (http://wi-fi.org/)
JiWire - comprehensive and up-to-date directory of public hotspots
Hotspot-Locations — worldwide directory of free and commercial Wi-Fi
The Wireless Node Database Project (http://www.nodedb.com)Worldwide Wi-Fi map
WiFiMaps.com (http://www.WiFiMaps.com) Searchable maps of wireless installations
List hotspots in specified country or city (http://www.wifinder.com)
Total Hotspots — The Global Wi-Fi Hotspots Directory (http://www.totalhotspots.com/)
Wi-Fi technical specifications (http://www.irit.fr/~Ralph.Sobek/wifi/) (in English and
Wireless LAN security resources and whitepapers (http://www.wardrive.net/)
Mobile Mesh Networking (http://www.corante.com/mobilemesh/) Resources on Wireless
Wi-Fi Discussion Forum (http://wifi-forum.com/)
WiFi antenna types & outdoor network design guide (http://www.wifi-antenna.com/)