Wi-Fi is a wireless technology brand owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance intended to improve the interoperability of wireless local area network products based on the IEEE 802.11 standards.
Common applications for Wi-Fi include Internet and VoIP phone access, gaming, and network connectivity for consumer electronics such as televisions, DVD players, and digital cameras.
Main article: Wi-Fi Technical Information
According to the brand style guide of the Wi-Fi Alliance (the owner of the Wi-Fi brand):
Products which successfully pass the Wi-Fi Alliance testing may use the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED brand. The Alliance tests and certifies the interoperability of wireless LAN products based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. Studies show that 88% of consumers prefer products that have been tested by an independent organization.
Wi-Fi technologies have gone through several generations since their inception in 1997. Wi-Fi is supported to different extents under Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh and open source Unix and Linux operating systems. Contrary to popular belief, Wi-Fi is not an abbreviation for "Wireless Fidelity" (see "Origin and meaning of the term "Wi-Fi" below).
A Wi-Fi enabled device such as a PC, iPod, cell phone or PDA can connect to the Internet when within range of a wireless network connected to the Internet. The area covered by one or more interconnected access points is called a hotspot. Hotspots can cover as little as a single room with wireless-opaque walls or as much as many square miles covered by overlapping access points. Wi-Fi can also be used to create a mesh network. Both architectures are used in community networks.
Wi-Fi also allows connectivity in peer-to-peer (wireless ad-hoc network) mode, which enables devices to connect directly with each other. This connectivity mode is useful in consumer electronics and gaming applications.
When the technology was first commercialized there were many problems because consumers could not be sure that products from different vendors would work together. The Wi-Fi Alliance began as a community to solve this issue so as to address the needs of the end user and allow the technology to mature. The Alliance created the branding Wi-Fi CERTIFIED to show consumers that products are interoperable with other products displaying the same branding.
Many consumer devices use Wi-Fi. Amongst others, personal computers can network to each other and connect to the Internet, mobile computers can connect to the Internet from any Wi-Fi hotspot, and digital cameras can transfer images wirelessly.
Routers which incorporate a DSL or cable modem and a Wi-Fi access point are often used in homes and other premises, and provide Internet access and internetworking to all devices connected wirelessly or by cable into them. Devices supporting Wi-Fi can also be connected in ad-hoc mode for client-to-client connections without a router.
Business and industrial Wi-Fi is widespread as of 2007. In business environments, increasing the number of Wi-Fi access points provides redundancy, support for fast roaming and increased overall network capacity by using more channels or creating smaller cells. Wi-Fi enables wireless voice applications (VoWLAN or WVOIP). Over the years, Wi-Fi implementations have moved toward 'thin' access points, with more of the network intelligence housed in a centralized network appliance, relegating individual Access Points to be simply 'dumb' radios. Outdoor applications may utilize true mesh topologies. As of 2007 Wi-Fi installations can provide a secure computer networking gateway, firewall, DHCP server, intrusion detection system, and other functions.
In addition to restricted use in homes and offices, Wi-Fi is publicly available at Wi-Fi hotspots provided either free of charge or to subscribers to various providers. Free hotspots are often provided by businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and airports who offer the service to attract or assist clients. Sometimes free Wi-Fi is provided by enthusiasts, or by organisations or authorities who wish to promote business in their area. Metropolitan-wide WiFi (Mu-Fi) already has more than 300 projects in process.
Advantages of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi allows LANs to be deployed without cabling for client devices, typically 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.
As of 2007 wireless network adapters are built into most modern laptops. The price of chipsets for Wi-Fi continues to drop, making it an economical networking option included in ever more devices. Wi-Fi has become widespread in corporate infrastructures, which also helps with the deployment of RFID technology that can piggyback on Wi-Fi.
Different competitive brands of access points and client network interfaces are inter-operable at a basic level of service. Products designated as "Wi-Fi Certified" by the Wi-Fi Alliance are backwards inter-operable. Wi-Fi is a global set of standards. Unlike mobile telephones, any standard Wi-Fi device will work anywhere in the world.
Wi-Fi is widely available in more than 250,000 public hotspots and tens of millions of homes and corporate and university campuses worldwide. WPA is not easily cracked if strong passwords are used and WPA2 encryption has no known weaknesses. New protocols for Quality of Service (WMM) make Wi-Fi more suitable for latency-sensitive applications (such as voice and video), and power saving mechanisms (WMM Power Save) improve battery operation.
Disadvantages of Wi-Fi
Spectrum assignments and operational limitations are not consistent worldwide. Most of Europe allows for an additional 2 channels beyond those permitted in the U.S for the 2.4 GHz band. (1-13 vs. 1-11); Japan has one more on top of that (1-14), and some countries, like Spain, prohibit use of the lower-numbered channels. Europe, as of 2007, is now essentially homogeneous in this respect. A very confusing aspect is the fact a WiFI signal actually occupies five channels in the 2.4 GHz resulting in only 3 non-overlapped channels in US countries 1, 6, 11 and four in Europe 1,5,9,13
Some countries, such as Italy, formerly required a 'general authorization' for any Wi-Fi used outside an operator's own premises, or require something akin to an operator registration. Equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) in the EU is limited to 20 dBm (0.1 W).
Power consumption is fairly high compared to some other low-bandwidth standards, such as Zigbee and Bluetooth, making battery life a concern.
The most common wireless encryption standard, Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP, has been shown to be easily breakable even when correctly configured. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2), which began shipping in 2003, aims to solve this problem and is now available on most products. Wi-Fi Access Points typically default to an open (encryption-free) mode. Novice users benefit from a zero-configuration device that works out of the box, but this default is without security enabled, providing open wireless access to their LAN. To turn security on requires the user to configure the device, usually via a software graphical user interface (GUI). Wi-Fi networks that are open (unencrypted) can be monitored and used to read and copy data (including personal information) transmitted over the network, unless another security method is used to secure the data, such as a VPN or a secure web page. (See HTTPS/Secure Socket Layer.)
Many 2.4 GHz 802.11b and 802.11g Access points default to the same channel on initial startup, contributing to congestion on certain channels. To change the channel of operation for an access point requires the user to configure the device.
Wi-Fi networks have limited range. A typical Wi-Fi home router using 802.11b or 802.11g with a stock antenna might have a range of 32 m (120 ft) indoors and 95 m (300 ft) outdoors. Range also varies with frequency band. Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz frequency block has slightly better range than Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz frequency block. Outdoor range with improved (directional) antennas can be several kilometres or more with line-of-sight.
Wi-Fi pollution, or an excessive number of access points in the area, especially on the same or neighboring channel, can prevent access and interfere with the use of other access points by others, caused by overlapping channels in the 802.11g/b spectrum, as well as with decreased signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) between access points. This can be a problem in high-density areas, such as large apartment complexes or office buildings with many Wi-Fi access points. Additionally, other devices use the 2.4 GHz band: microwave ovens, cordless phones, baby monitors, security cameras, and Bluetooth devices can cause significant additional interference. General guidance to those who suffer these forms of interference or network crowding is to migrate to a WiFi 5GHz product (802.11a) usually a dual band product as the 5GHz band is relatively unused and there are many more channels available. This also requires users to set up the 5GHz band to be the preferred network in the client and to configure each network band to a different name(SSID).
It is also an issue when municipalities, or other large entities such as universities, seek to provide large area coverage. Everyone is considered equal for the base standard without 802.11e/WMM when they use the band. This openness is also important to the success and widespread use of 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, but makes it unsuitable for "must-have" public service functions or where reliability is required.
Interoperability issues between brands or proprietary deviations from the standard can disrupt connections or lower throughput speeds on other user's devices that are within range. Additionally, Wi-Fi devices do not, as of 2007, pick channels to avoid interference.
Wireless access points connects a group of wireless devices to an adjacent wired LAN. An access point is similar to an ethernet hub, relaying data between connected wireless devices in addition to a (usually) single connected wired device, most often an ethernet hub or switch, allowing wireless devices to communicate with other wired devices.
Wireless adapters allow devices to connect to a wireless network. These adapters connect to devices using various external or internal interconnects such as PCI, miniPCI, USB, ExpressCard, Cardbus and PC card. Most newer laptop computers are equipped with internal adapters. Internal cards are generally more difficult to install.
Wireless routers integrate WAP, ethernet switch, and internal Router firmware application that provides IP Routing, NAT, and DNS forwarding through an integrated WAN interface. A wireless router allows wired and wireless ethernet LAN devices to connect to a (usually) single WAN device such as cable modem or DSL modem. A wireless router allows all three devices (mainly the access point and router) to be configured through one central utility. This utility is most usually an integrated web server which serves web pages to wired and wireless LAN clients and often optionally to WAN clients. This utility may also be an application that is run on a desktop computer such as Apple's AirPort.
Wireless Ethernet bridges connect a wired network to a wireless network. This is different from an access point in the sense that an access point connects wireless devices to a wired network at the data-link layer. Two wireless bridges may be used to connect two wired networks over a wireless link, useful in situations where a wired connection may be unavailable, such as between two separate homes.
Wireless range extenders or wireless repeaters can extend the range of an existing wireless network. Range extenders can be strategically placed to elongate a signal area or allow for the signal area to reach around barriers such as those created in L-shaped corridors. Wireless devices connected through repeaters will suffer from an increased latency for each hop. Additionally, a wireless device at the end of chain of wireless repeaters will have a throughput that is limited by the weakest link within the repeater chain.
Most commercial devices (routers, access points, bridges, repeaters) designed for home or business environments use either RP-SMA or RP-TNC antenna connectors. PCI wireless adapters also mainly use RP-SMA connectors. Most PC card and USB wireless only have internal antennas etched on their printed circuit board while some have MMCX connector or MC-Card external connections in addition to an internal antenna. A few USB cards have a RP-SMA connector. Most Mini PCI wireless cards utilize Hirose U.FL connectors, but cards found in various wireless appliances contain all of the connectors listed. Many high-gain (and homebuilt antennas) utilize the Type N connector more commonly used by other radio communications methods.
USB-Wi-Fi adapters, food container "Cantennas", parabolic reflectors, and many other types of self-built antennas are increasingly made by do-it-yourselfers. For minimal budgets, as low as a few dollars, signal strength and range can be improved dramatically.
As of 2007, Long Range Wi-Fi kits have begun to enter the market. Companies like BroadbandXpress offer long range, inexpensive kits that can be setup with limited knowledge. These kits utilize specialized antennas which increase the range of Wi-Fi dramatically, up to the world record 137.2 miles (220 km). These kits are commonly used to get broadband internet to a place without direct broadband access.
The longest link ever achieved was by the Swedish space agency. They attained 310 km, but used 6 watt amplifiers to reach an overhead stratospheric balloon. The longest link without amplification was 279 km in Venezuela, 2006.
Embedded serial to WiFi module from British company, EZURiO
Wi-Fi availability in the home is on the increase. This extension of the Internet into the home space will increasingly be used for remote monitoring. Examples of remote monitoring include security systems and tele-medicine. In all these kinds of implementation, if the Wi-Fi provision is provided using a system running one of operating systems mentioned above, then it becomes unfeasible due to weight, power consumption and cost issues.
Increasingly in the last few years (particularly as of early 2007), embedded Wi-Fi modules have become available which come with a real-time operating system and provide a simple means of wireless enabling any device which has and communicates via a serial port.
This allows simple monitoring devices – for example, a portable ECG monitor hooked up to a patient in their home – to be created. This Wi-Fi enabled device effectively becomes part of the internet cloud and can communicate with any other node on the internet. The data collected can hop via the home's Wi-Fi access point to anywhere on the internet.
These Wi-Fi modules are designed so that minimal Wi-Fi knowledge is required by designers to wireless enable their product.
Unintended and intended use by outsiders
Wikinews has related news:
Florida man charged with stealing WiFi
Measures to deter unauthorized users include suppressing the AP's service set identifier (SSID) broadcast, allowing only computers with known MAC addresses to join the network, and various encryption standards. Access points and computers using no encryption are vulnerable to eavesdropping by an attacker armed with packet sniffer software. If the eavesdropper has the ability to change his MAC address then he can potentially join the network by spoofing an authorised address.
WEP encryption can protect against casual snooping but may also produce a misguided sense of security since freely available tools such as AirSnort can quickly recover WEP encryption keys. Once it has seen 5-10 million encrypted packets, AirSnort will determine the encryption password in under a second. The newer Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and IEEE 802.11i (WPA2) encyption standards do not have the serious weaknesses of WEP encryption, but require strong passphrases for full security.
Recreational exploration of other people's access points has become known as wardriving, and the leaving of graffiti describing available services as warchalking. These activities may be illegal in certain jurisdictions, but existing legislation and case-law is often unclear.
However, it is also common for people to unintentionally use others' Wi-Fi networks without explicit authorization. Operating systems such as Windows XP SP2 and Mac OS X automatically connect to an available wireless network, depending on the network configuration. A user who happens to start up a laptop in the vicinity of an access point may find the computer has joined the network without any visible indication. Moreover, a user intending to join one network may instead end up on another one if the latter's signal is stronger. In combination with automatic discovery of other network resources (see DHCP and Zeroconf) this could possibly lead wireless users to send sensitive data to the wrong destination.
In Singapore, using another person's Wi-Fi network is illegal under the Computer Misuse Act. A 17 year old has been arrested for simply tapping into his neighbor's wireless Internet connection and faces up to 3 years' imprisonment and a fine.
Wi-Fi vs. amateur radio
In the U.S., Canada and Australia, a portion of the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi radio spectrum is also allocated to amateur radio users. In the U.S., FCC Part 15 rules govern non-licensed operators (i.e. most Wi-Fi equipment users). Under Part 15 rules, non-licensed users must "accept" (i.e. endure) interference from licensed users and not cause harmful interference to licensed users. Amateur radio operators are licensed users, and retain what the FCC terms "primary status" on the band, under a distinct set of rules (Part 97). Under Part 97, licensed amateur operators may construct their own equipment, use very high-gain antennas, and boost output power to 100 watts on frequencies covered by Wi-Fi channels 2-6. However, Part 97 rules mandate using only the minimum power necessary for communications, forbid obscuring the data, and require station identification every 10 minutes. Therefore, output power control is required to meet regulations, and the transmission of any encrypted data (for example https) is questionable.
In practice, microwave power amplifiers are expensive. On the other hand, the short wavelength at 2.4 GHz allows for simple construction of very high gain directional antennas. Although Part 15 rules forbid any modification of commercially constructed systems, amateur radio operators may modify commercial systems for optimized construction of long links, for example. Using only 200 mW link radios and high gain directional antennas, a very narrow beam may be used to construct reliable links with minimal radio frequency interference to other users.
Wi-Fi uses both single carrier direct-sequence spread spectrum radio technology (part of the larger family of spread spectrum systems) and multi-carrier OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) radio technology. These regulations then enabled the development of Wi-Fi, its onetime competitor HomeRF, and Bluetooth.
Unlicensed spread spectrum was first made available by the Federal Communications Commission in 1985 and these FCC regulations were later copied with some changes in many other countries enabling use of this technology in all major countries. The FCC action was proposed by Michael Marcus of the FCC staff in 1980 and the subsequent controversial regulatory action took 5 more years. It was part of a broader proposal to allow civil use of spread spectrum technology and was opposed at the time by main stream equipment manufacturers and many radio system operators.
The precursor to Wi-Fi was invented in 1991 by NCR Corporation/AT&T (later Lucent & Agere Systems) in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands. It was initially intended for cashier systems; the first wireless products were brought on the market under the name WaveLAN with speeds of 1 Mbit/s to 2 Mbit/s. Vic Hayes, who held the chair of IEEE 802.11 for 10 years and has been named the 'father of Wi-Fi,' was involved in designing standards such as IEEE 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g.
Origin and meaning of the term "Wi-Fi"
Despite the similarity between the terms "Wi-Fi" and "Hi-Fi", statements reportedly made by Phil Belanger of the Wi-Fi Alliance contradict the popular conclusion that "Wi-Fi" stands for "Wireless Fidelity". According to Mr Belanger, the Interbrand Corporation developed the brand "Wi-Fi" for the Wi-Fi Alliance to use to describe WLAN products that are based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. In Mr Belanger's words, "Wi-Fi and the yin yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We [the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance] hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than 'IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence'."
The Wi-Fi Alliance themselves invoked the term "Wireless Fidelity" with the marketing of a tag line, "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity", but later removed the tag from their marketing. The Wi-Fi Alliance now seems to discourage the propagation of the notion that "Wi-Fi" stands for "Wireless Fidelity", but it has been referred to as such by the Wi-Fi Alliance in White Papers currently held in their knowledge base: "…a promising market for wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) network equipment." and "A Short History of WLANs … The association created the Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) logo to indicate that a product had been certified for interoperability."
Wikinews has Wi-fi news articles:
Microsoft Pushing Community Wi-Fi
Google formally submits bid to provide free WiFi in San Francisco
Google launches free city wide Wi-Fi in Mountain View, California
^ Muni Wireless
^ Making Business Sense of Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), RFID Radio
^ How Municipal WiFi Works
^ Reardon, Marguerite. "New wireless record claimed", CNET News, August 16, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-01-04.
^ IEEE 802.11 Long Reach Link (PDF). eslared.org. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ AirSnort home page
^ "Singapore teen faces 3 years' jail for tapping into another's wireless Internet", International Herald Tribune, November 10, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ WiFi Summary. Health Protection Agency. Retrieved on 2007-06-14.
^ a b c Lean, Geoffrey, Hanks, Alex. "Worried families ditch their Wi-Fi after watchdog voices health concerns", The Independent, Independent News and Media Limited, June 3, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-06-04.
^ "Wi-Fi health fears are 'unproven'", BBC News, May 21, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-23.
^ Authorization of Spread Spectrum Systems Under Parts 15 and 90 of the FCC Rules and Regulations (TXT). Federal Communications Commission (June 18, 1985). Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ What is the True Meaning of Wi-Fi?. Teleclick. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ WiFi isn't short for "Wireless Fidelity". Boing Boing. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ Wireless Fidelity' Debunked. Wi-Fi Planet. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ Enabling the Future of Wi-Fi® Public Access. Wi-Fi.org. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.
^ Securing Wi-Fi Networks with Today's Technologies. Wi-Fi.org. Retrieved on 2007-08-31.