HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

September 11, 2006, Herald Journal

Why Wi-Fi?


Have you seen the signs?

Perhaps when you were driving by a bookshop, airport, coffee house or a motel, you noticed a sign that said, “We Have Wi-Fi Access.”

One of the more popular (and convenient) new ways to access the Internet or a wireless local area network (WLAN) is by using a wireless technology that is called Wi-Fi or “Wireless Fidelity.”

In 1997, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the first WLAN standard. They called it 802.11.

This is the standard protocol folks are using to send those bits and bytes (1’s and 0’s) over the airwaves when they are using Wi-Fi.

This is also called “wireless networking.”

The Wi-Fi “hotspots” have a range of around 100-300 feet. This means that when you take your laptop computer within range of the Wi-Fi transmitter, you will be able to access this wireless network, start up your web browser, and hop onto the Internet to check your e-mail or read this column.

Since I bought my new laptop computer, I have accessed some, of these Wi-Fi areas. I noticed that some like Dunn Bros Coffee shops, have “unsecured” Wi-Fi access, meaning that you do not need a password to log on and use the service. I did note that at the Brainerd Caribou Coffee shop, they have a Wi-Fi contract with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and that, for a small fee, you can access their “secured” Wi-Fi network.

Most though, are free, as the owners of these places of business hope that the offer of free Internet access will encourage you to visit their place of business and spend some of your money there.

I know it works for me, but I need access to the Internet to send in my column every week. This week, I am e-mailing my column from the Ramada Inn in Brainerd. The motel here has free Wi-Fi for the rooms, so using my laptop computer, I was able to connect to the motel’s wireless network.

When I did that, I started my web browser and, before you knew it, I was online on the Internet. I went to AOL and accessed my e-mails and then after I complete this column, I will e-mail it in to the newspaper. Pretty neat, huh?

Under my computer’s “Network Connections,” I show that I am currently connected to a wireless network and the speed of the data is around 10 Mbps, which is pretty fast.

I added a Wi-Fi amplifier box called an iBridge, which is made by Telkonet. This gives me a maximum broadband signal. I did not need this, as I was able to access the Wi-Fi network, but the motel had the iBridge available so I took it with me and with an Ethernet connection to my laptop, it pulled in the Wi-Fi signal better than without having it connected. Since having a faster connection means less waiting for Internet information to be received by my laptop, I, of course, chose to have a faster connection.

The average data transfer rate of an 802.11/b wireless connection is about 2-6 Mbps. For an 802.11/g, it is around 10-25 Mbps.

There is also an 802.11/a that can operate at around 54Mbps, but it is expensive (for now) and used mostly in the corporate world. For the rest of us, 802.11/g will do very nicely.

Note that your speed depends on the Internet service provider, how close you are to the Wi-Fi transmitter, what type of 802.11x adapter you have, and what the Wi-Fi service is operating at. Your speed will also be affected by how many other users are accessing the Wi-Fi signal at the same time you are.

The closer you are to the Wi-Fi transmitter, the faster your speeds will be, and the further away you are . . . well, your speed will be slower. How’s that for high-tech talk?

My HP Pavilion was already equipped with a Broadcom 802.11/b/g card. If your laptop or notebook computer does not have this, you can get the card and install it yourself.

For those of you out there with Windows operating systems, you can use a D“-link-G650 AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless CardBus Adapter.” This comes with a setup guide and software on a CD. This wireless adapter will fit in the PCMCIA slot of your laptop and has a theoretical maximum wireless signal rate of up to 108Mbps.

Mobile Mac users can also enjoy the benefits of wireless connectivity while on the road with the Apple “Airport Extreme Wireless Laptop Card.” This wireless card adapter can operate at up to 54Mbps.

Of course, it is best to check around at your favorite computer place to make sure you buy the right Wi-Fi adapter for your particular laptop or notebook that will give you the best wireless networking. The new laptops will come with the 802.11/b/g wireless cards. There is also the 802.11/n standard, which is to be released in April of 2008, and operates at an average speed of 200Mbps.

So, why Wi-Fi? Why not.