Wireless Internet connectivity can be rather confusing if you do not understand the various technologies involved. We would like to take this opportunity to help educate you regarding those technologies and how and when each is utilized. Our intent is not to promote one technology over another. Our intent is to assist you in understanding how they work…mostly like you will use all of them. Part of our expertise lies in the integration and implementation of these, so just let us know if you have a wireless project that needs the professional touch. Whether you need basic consultation on what parts to order or need a turnkey, commercial system designed, built and managed, we have the tools and experience to make sure you get the right system at the right price.
What is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi refers to the wireless LAN technologies that use radio waves to transmit data from a client device to either an access point or router. The router completes a connection to other devices on the LAN, WAN or the Internet. Wi-Fi signals carry data to and from smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, laptops, or any of the plethora of IoT devices emerging today. Wi-Fi by itself is not Internet. A Wi-Fi router must have and Internet connection (WAN) before it can pass data to devices connected to the LAN.
The Wi-Fi router can allow connected devices to all share data on the local network; however it must have an Internet (WAN) connection before any device can use the Internet. For example, your Internet connection to the router might be broken, but you will still be able to use the Wi-Fi network for activities like file sharing and printing.
Is Wi-Fi and Internet Service the Same Thing?
No! Confusion generally arises because people connect via Wi-Fi, so they think Wi-Fi is the Internet service. Wi-Fi is just the one medium used to connect to the LAN, but an Internet service (WAN) must to be active for devices on the Wi-Fi LAN (WLAN) to connect to the Internet. A Wi-Fi router or access point (AP) is wired to an Internet source it then takes that Internet connection and allows devices to access by connecting to the Wi-Fi signal.
In addition to cabled Internet service, there’s also wireless Internet service. Wireless Internet is not the same as Wi-Fi.
What’s Difference between Wi-Fi and Cellular Data
The main difference between Wi-Fi and cellular data (also called “mobile data”) is the technology your device uses to connecting to the Internet. Our mobile phones support both cellular data and Wi-Fi by having two different radios to establish the different connections. A cellular data connection uses your carrier’s (AT&T, TMobile, Verizon, etc.) network instead of a private router and Wi-Fi LAN. Today, the cellular networks deliver Internet over 4G LTE and 5G and are usually metered by your carrier. Wi-Fi on the other hand, uses a different wireless standard (see above) to connect your device to a router that then passes Internet traffic to your device. It is important to understand this difference and how to manage your device for either connection.
What is Wireless or Fixed-Point Internet?
Fixed-point wireless Internet is Internet service that is delivered via radio signals to a specific antenna/radio usually mounted on the outside your home or business. A cable is then ran from the outside radio to your inside router or firewall to connect the Internet service. Unlike cable Internet service, it is delivered wirelessly, which makes it a better Internet option for rural areas, specifically for those who do not have fiber run to their home or for those who do not have many viable Internet options in their area. So, you can have a Wireless Internet service and Wi-Fi at the same time. They’re different, but they work together to create a home or business network that provides you with connectivity to the Internet.
Fixed-point wireless requires near-line of sight and requires a nearby transmission tower, so there are specific areas that have coverage. And the technology must be installed to receive data through near-line of sight wirelessly rather than running cable. This is a tremendous advantage in rural areas where it is not feasible for large cable and telephone companies to invest in the infrastructure to provide residents with internet access.
Fixed-wireless is available anywhere there is a fixed-point wireless tower available. If you’re in a rural area, it’s likely that fixed point wireless Internet is going to be your only choice beyond satellite Internet service. Compared to satellite Internet service, fixed point internet service is far more reliable.
How does wireless Internet compare to satellites?
Fixed-point wireless differs from satellite Internet service because the signals are only transferred around the ground from tower to tower rather than being bounced from a satellite. Fixed-point Internet is still a high-speed broadband service and customers can expect reliable service from the right rural Internet service provider.
Satellite services realize much more disruption by things like weather and the upload speeds are usually not adequate for commercial use. Also, satellite pricing is not as competitive, but it might be the only option available.
More Details About Wi-Fi And Its History
A wireless network uses radio waves, just like cell phones, televisions and radios do. In fact, communication across a wireless network is a lot like two-way radio communication. Here’s what happens:
- A computer’s wireless adapter translates data into a radio signal and transmits it using an antenna.
- A wireless router receives the signal and decodes it. The router sends the information to the internet using a physical, wired ethernet connection.
The process also works in reverse, with the router receiving information from the internet, translating it into a radio signal and sending it to the computer’s wireless adapter.
The radios used for WiFi communication are very similar to the radios used for walkie-talkies, cell phones and other devices. They can transmit and receive radio waves, and they can convert 1s and 0s into radio waves and convert the radio waves back into 1s and 0s. But WiFi radios have a few notable differences from other radios:
- They transmit at frequencies of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. This frequency is considerably higher than the frequencies used for cell phones, walkie-talkies and televisions. The higher frequency allows the signal to carry more data.
- 2.4 GHz connections are now considered somewhat obsolete because they carry lower data speeds than 5 GHz. The 2.4 band continues to see use, however, because the lower frequency can carry over several hundred feet. In ideal conditions, the 5 GHz band has a max range of about 200 feet (61 meters), but in the real world, it is much more prone to interference from walls, doors and other objects. The 2.4 band may be faster for a user connecting to a router several rooms away, while 5 GHz will definitely be faster for a close connection.
WiFi uses 802.11 networking standards, which come in several flavors and have evolved over the decades:
- 802.11b (introduced in 1999) is the slowest and least expensive standard. For a while, its cost made it popular, but now it’s less common as faster standards become less expensive. 802.11b transmits in the 2.4 GHz frequency band of the radio spectrum. It can handle up to 11 megabits of data per second, and it uses complementary code keying (CCK) modulation to improve speeds.
- 802.11a (introduced after 802.11b) transmits at 5 GHz and can move up to 54 megabits of data per second. It uses orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), a more efficient coding technique that splits that radio signal into several sub-signals before they reach a receiver. This greatly reduces interference.
- 802.11g transmits at 2.4 GHz like 802.11b, but it’s a lot faster — it can handle up to 54 megabits of data per second. 802.11g is faster because it uses the same OFDM coding as 802.11a.
- 802.11n (introduced in 2009) is backward compatible with a, b and g. It significantly improved speed and range over its predecessors. For instance, although 802.11g theoretically moves 54 megabits of data per second, it only achieves real-world speeds of about 24 megabits of data per second because of network congestion. 802.11n, however, reportedly can achieve speeds as high as 140 megabits per second. 802.11n can transmit up to four streams of data, each at a maximum of 150 megabits per second, but most routers only allow for two or three streams.
- 802.11ac came on the scene around 2014, and operates exclusively at a 5 GHz frequency. 802.11ac is backward compatible with 802.11n (and therefore the others, too), with n on the 2.4 GHz band and ac on the 5 GHz band. It is less prone to interference and far faster than its predecessors, pushing a maximum of 450 megabits per second on a single stream, although real-world speeds may be lower. Like 802.11n, it allows for transmission on multiple spatial streams — up to eight, optionally. It is sometimes called 5G because of its frequency band, sometimes Gigabit WiFi because of its potential to exceed a gigabit per second on multiple streams and sometimes Very High Throughput (VHT) for the same reason.
- 802.11ax, also known as WiFi 6, came to the industry in 2019. This standard extends the capabilities of 802.11ac in a few key ways. First of all, the new routers allow an even higher data flow rate, up to 9.2 Gbps (gigabits per second). WiFi 6 also lets manufacturers install many more antennas on one router, accepting multiple connections at once without any worry of interference and slowdown. Some new devices also connect on a higher 6 GHz band, which is about 20 percent faster than 5GHz in ideal conditions.
- 802.11be (or WiFi 7) is projected to be the standard by 2024, and should offer even better range, more connections and faster data rates than any of the previous versions.
Other 802.11 standards focus on specific applications of wireless networks, like wide area networks (WANs) inside vehicles or technology that lets you move from one wireless network to another seamlessly.
WiFi radios can transmit on any frequency band. Or they can “frequency hop” rapidly between the different bands. Frequency hopping helps reduce interference and lets multiple devices use the same wireless connection simultaneously.
As long as they all have wireless adapters, several devices can use one router to connect to the internet. This connection is convenient, virtually invisible and fairly reliable; however, if the router fails or if too many people try to use high-bandwidth applications at the same time, users can experience interference or lose their connections, although newer, faster standards like 802.11ax will help with that.