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Wireless Jargon – translated what this stuff means

Confused Yet? Wireless Jargon.

Wireless networking, like so many things in life — and especially the ones that have anything to do with computers — is filled with jargon. Don’t be intimidated, though: here’s a quick computer-speak to English guide to help you get by.

802.11. The name of the wireless networking standard, set by the IEEE. Ensures that wireless devices are interoperable.

Driver. A piece of computer software that tells the computer how to talk to devices that are plugged into it. For wireless networking, the drivers you need to install will come on a CD with any equipment you buy.

Ethernet. The most common way of connecting to a LAN. Any wires you might have connecting your computers together now are Ethernet wires, and the cable connecting your modem to your computer is probably an Ethernet wire too.

Ghz. Gigahertz. A measurement of frequency — one gigahertz is one billion cycles per second. You may recognise the measurement from computer processor speeds, which are now also measured in Ghz.

IEEE. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In charge of the wireless networking standard, as well as many other computer-related standards (including the Ethernet standard). They ensure that computer equipment made by different manufacturers can work together.

Interoperable. Means that two pieces of equipment are compatible — you can use them together, because they stick to the standards. You should not get any wireless equipment that isn’t interoperable.

LAN. Local Area Network. A network that is generally confined to one building, such as a home or office. A wireless LAN is also known as a WLAN.

Linux. An alternative operating system to Windows. Computers running Linux can run many programs and connect to the Internet without needing Windows. Linux is free to download and you are allowed to give it to friends to use. A lot of wireless devices run Linux, or are compatible with it.

MAN. Metropolitan Area Network. A network that covers a larger area, for example a town or city. Wireless MANs (men?) spread Internet access all over the area, but are expensive to set up. They are sometimes used on university campuses.

Mbps. Megabits per second, a measurement of connection speed. Not to be confused with MBps, megabytes per second. There are eight megabits in a megabyte.

PAN. Personal Area Network. These are networks made up of devices connected together in one small area. For example, your computer with a USB keyboard and mouse connected is a PAN. PANs can be wireless, using a technology called Bluetooth.

PCI. Peripheral Component Interconnect. This is a way of installing new devices inside your computer, such as graphics cards and network devices. If you want to install a wireless card inside your computer, you will be using PCI.

PCMCIA. Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (some say it should stand for ‘People Can’t Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms’). A standard for plugging credit card-sized devices into a laptop, to give it extra capabilities. PCMCIA is a great way of adding wireless networking to your laptop as easily as inserting a disk.

USB. Universal Serial Bus. A port used for connecting all sorts of devices to a computer, including keyboards, mice, printers, external drives, and almost anything else you can think of. If you don’t want to open up your computer and you don’t have a laptop, you can get a USB wireless device.

WAN. Wide Area Network. A network that is connected over more than one physical site, such as a business that has its computers in two countries connected on one network. The Internet, for example, is a WAN — the biggest WAN in the world.

WEP. Wired Equivalent Privacy. The old standard for encrypting wireless networks. Unfortunately, it was found to be insecure back in 2001, and so should no longer be used.

WPA. Wi-Fi Protected Access. Basically an upgrade of WEP to fix its security problems. WPA-encrypted networks change their encryption method often, to avoid becoming vulnerable, and also shut down for thirty seconds if they detect a suspected attack.

How Do Wireless Networks Work?

How Do Wireless Networks Work?

Wireless networks work using radio waves instead of wires to transmit data between computers. That’s the simple version. If you’re curious to know what’s going on in more detail, then it’s all explained in this article.

Ones and Zeros.

I’m sure you know that computers transmit data digitally, using binary: ones and zeros. This is a way of communicating that translates very well to radio waves, since the computer can transmit ones and zeros as different kinds of beep. These beeps are so fast that they’re outside a human’s hearing range — radio waves that you can’t hear are, in fact, all around you all the time. That doesn’t stop a computer from using them, though.

Morse Code.

The way it works is a lot like Morse code. You probably already know that Morse code is a way of representing the alphabet so that it can be transmitted over radio using a dot (short beep) and a dash (long dash). It was used manually for years, and became a great way of getting information from one place to another with the invention of the telegraph. More importantly for this example, though, it is a binary system, just like a computer’s ones and zeros.

You might think of wireless networking, then, as being like Morse code for computers. You plug a combined radio receiver and transmitter in, and the computer is able to send out its equivalent of dots and dashes (bits, in computer-speak) to get your data from one place to another.

All About Frequencies.

You might wonder, though, how the computer could possibly transmit enough bits to send and receive data at the speed it does. After all, there must be a limit on how much can be sent in a second before it just becomes useless nonsense, right? Well, yes, but the key to wireless networking is that it gets around this problem.

First of all, wireless transmissions are sent at very high frequencies, meaning that more data can be sent per second. Most wireless connections use a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz (2.4 billion cycles per second) — a similar frequency to mobile phones and microwave ovens. As you might know, though, a frequency this high means that the wavelength must be very short, which is why wireless networking only works over a limited area.

In addition, wireless networks make use of a technique known as ‘frequency hopping’. They use dozens of frequencies in the range they are given, and constantly switch between them. This makes wireless networks more immune to interference from other radio signals than they would be if they only transmitted on one frequency.

Access Points.

The final step is when it comes to all the computers on a network sharing Internet access. This is done using a special piece of wireless equipment called an access point. Access points are more expensive than wireless cards for one computer, as they contain radios that are capable of talking to around 100 computers at the same time, and sharing out access to the Internet between them. Dedicated access points are only really essential for larger networks, though — if you only have a few computers, it is possible to use one of them as the access point, or you could just get a wireless router.

They Understand Each Other.

That’s all well and good, then, but how does wireless equipment made by entirely different companies manage to work together when this is all so complicated? Well, the answer is that there are standards that all wireless devices follow. These standards are technically called the 802.11 standards, and are set by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). It is thanks to people sticking to their standards that wireless networking is so easy and cheap to use today.

You Don’t Need to Worry.

If all this talk of frequencies has you a little worried, you don’t need to be — wireless networking hardware and software handles all of this automatically, without you needing to do a thing. Don’t think that you’re going to have to tell one wireless device what frequency another is using, because it’s just not going to happen, alright? Wireless networking, for all its complicated workings, is really far more simple to use than you’d ever expect.

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Tips to Increase Ranking and Website Traffic

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