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Wi-Fi – What is it, where did it come from and how to make yours better

Tech Talk

 

October 26, 2019

Greg Cunningham

Wi-Fi is a technology that uses a high-frequency radio signal to connect devices without wires. Because WiFi uses public radio frequencies, there must be standards and specifications. In 1997, a committee at the International Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the technical standards for a section of public radio bandwidth. The numerical designation of these standards was 802.11.

In 1999, a trade association formed to hold the many patents needed to make WiFi work. This association hired a consulting firm to come up with a better name than "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence." They came up with "Wi-Fi," and the trade association started calling themselves the Wi-Fi Alliance. The name Wi-Fi may come from Wireless Fidelity, a take on high fidelity, a term used in high-end audio equipment, although nobody's saying for sure.

The official Wi-Fi Alliance way to write Wi-Fi is hyphenated with the W, and the F capitalized. Common usage has led to people dropping the hyphen (WiFi) or dropping the hyphen and the capitalized letters (wifi). But no matter how you write it, it'll always be IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence to me.

You can get WiFi at home in one of two ways: through your internet provider's equipment, just one "blinky-light" box (with both a modem and a WiFi router inside), or two "blinky-light" boxes (one a modem from your internet provider and the other one a router owned by you).

How to improve your WiFi

If you can't remember when you bought your current router, it's probably past time to get a new one. Modern 802.11ac routers are capable of faster speeds and greater range than older routers.

If the single "blinky-light" box from your internet provider is more than a few years old, try to get them to replace it with a newer one for faster speeds and more coverage.

Don't worry about not being able to connect all your devices to a new 802.11ac router; all routers are backward-compatible. If you have older desktops and laptops that might not be able to use the faster speeds provided by a modern router, get an 802.11ac USB adapter for your oldie-but-goodie computer. Buy the good adapter though, not the cheap one.

If you're buying a router anyway, or want to improve WiFi coverage in your home, consider upgrading to a mesh WiFi system. A good mesh WiFi system will have two or three routers and extenders and are configured and managed through an app on your phone.

Remember that WiFi routers work best mounted in the open and up as high as you can get them and in the center of your house, if possible.

WiFi Security

Once you have your new router, keep it up to date. Updates are easier with mesh routers because the app on your phone will let you know when updates are available, but updates need to be checked and updated on non-mesh routers, too. Check your router's user manual or support web page for a how-to for your particular router.

Change your router's default username and password to keep your WiFi network secure. Again, check your router's user manual or web page for the procedures for your particular router.

Check your WiFi speed

If you're replacing an old router, it can be interesting to see how much faster your new router is. How? By doing a before and after speedtest.

Before you replace your old router, head over to http://www.speedtest.net or http://www.fast.com or http://www.speedcheck.org to check your current WiFi speed. After your new router is up and running, head back to the same site (or all of them) and run another test.

What is the WiFi password?

(At a bar somewhere)

Customer: Hey, what's the WiFi password here?

Bartender: You have to buy a drink first.

Customer: Okay, I'll have a Coke, please.

Bartender: Is Pepsi okay?

Customer: Sure.

Bartender: That will be $3.

Customer: Now, what's the WiFi password?

Bartender: youhavetobuyadrinkfirst. No spaces and all lowercase.

Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at greg@tech-hachapi.com.

 
 

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