Wi-Fi is available in nearly all businesses and homes in today’s world. Most all stores, coffee shops, and bars offer complementary Wi-Fi to guests, and customers expect a reliable Wi-Fi connection in such establishments. Cell phones are constantly communicating with wireless routers, businesses depend on Wi-Fi, and our home security systems even depend on Wi-Fi to alert us to suspicious activity. Despite or heavy reliance on wireless connectivity, rarely does one stop to ponder how Wi-Fi works, even when a connection is lost.

Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network, or WLAN, and is a brand name now owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Communications for WLAN follow standards and protocols called IEEE 802.111, but the name “Wi-Fi” was coined, as IEE 802.111 is quite the mouthful. Wi-Fi is so desirable because multiple devices can connect to the same router without disrupting internet speeds, for the most part. This setup is ideal in businesses such as hotels, school campuses, or restaurants, as many of these customers constantly connect to and rely upon a strong internet connection. In these applications, Wi-Fi provides an appropriate and convenient solution. Larger businesses, such as hospital complexes and municipal buildings or even larger homes may require several routers throughout a building in order to provide continuous service.

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Routers connect to individual devices through radio waves, just as an AM/FM radio unit receives signals from a radio station or a walkie talkie communicates with another unit. A wireless router, which receives internet services from an ethernet cable, converts its data to electromagnetic waves and forwards them to individual devices which receive them through an antenna. The device then communicates data back to the router in the form of electromagnetic radio waves, which are sent to the internet through the router’s ethernet cable. Finally, the data is returned to the individual device. This sounds like a very complex and lengthy process, when the reality is quite the opposite. This is the simple process that allows a router to send a laptop internet services which allow a user to input a Google search and receive results within seconds.

Although Wi-Fi is an integral part of our 21st Century lives, few understand the actual innerworkings of a wireless router and its communications with wireless devices. Understanding the basic functions of these devices allows for easier troubleshooting when connections are lost, in addition to understanding why an internet connection is maintained. Wireless routers harness the antiquated technology of radio waves to provide modern solutions in our current business environment.

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