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What Is a Wireless Network?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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A wireless network, as its name would suggest, is a network of computers and computer peripherals that are connected to each other without wires. This enables ease of communication, especially for mobile computing platforms. Further, there are a number of other advantages to a wireless network that make them increasingly common in both the workplace and at home.

Nearly all wireless networks in the world work on a standard set up by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers known as the 802.11 standard. Depending on the technology involved, there are subsections. These are usually listed on the packaging of the accompanying material that given the user an idea of the speed and extent of the technology a unit possesses.

For example, when looking at a wireless router, which is what enables communication between different computers on a network, it may be marked as an 802.11(b). Many of the routers, when wireless networking technology first become popular, carried this designation. Due to the age of the technology, it is cheaper than what is currently available but can still be used. It has a maximum transfer rate of 11 megabits per second (Mbps).

Since that technology has come on the market, other wireless network standards have also been introduced. These include 802.11(g) and 802.11(n). Each, respectively represents a subsequent generation of technology. The (g) standard increased range and speed, allowing for up to 54 Mbps. The (n) standard not only allows for a good range and even greater speeds, but also is better capable of resisting interference from other wireless sources. All 802.11 standards use radio signals for communication.

In addition to these sources, which are used in more limited geographical areas, WiMax is another types of wireless network. This type of network depends on line of sight, but as long as the view is not obstructed it can stretch out over hundreds of miles or kilometers. However, this technology depends on a larger antenna and converter in order to make communication possible. Even if data is transported over a WiMax network, it may still pass through a 802.11 standard network before reaching a computer workstation.

Bluetooth™, although not truly considered a wireless network type of technology, does meet that definition. However, this type of wireless technology is very limited and very slow, not making it very practical in most cases. However, some handheld computers, along with cell phones, may use this technology for a very limited number of tasks.

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Discussion Comments
By fitness234 — On Dec 03, 2010

I think it'll be interesting to see the developments in wireless network technology over the coming generations. With the end of our last century, we saw so many advancements in wireless technology that is absolutely bewildering. The days of actors on Star Trek pressing a button on their chest to communicate wirelessly over hundreds of miles is no longer fantasy. We now use Bluetooth earpieces to communicate via tiny devices that would seem bewildering to our previous generations.

Honestly, it makes me wonder what other types of advancements in breakthroughs we can actually achieve now that we have wireless communication. There is no doubt that we have a need for higher bandwidth rates on our wireless communication networks, but I wonder if there is actually any way to advance the technology beyond just making it faster. Will there ever be another breakthrough in the way that we use radio waves to communicate?

At some point in time I wonder if the limitations of our physical world will ever stop us from developing new technology in the constant battle to make wireless communication more efficient. I hope that day never comes, but once we harness the technology to communicate instantly with no lag time or delay of any kind, I think we would've achieved that main goal.

By MrPolitic99 — On Dec 01, 2010

I recently repurchased a Wi-Fi network router to put into my home. Configuring the wireless network was a challenge. If you follow the instructions very carefully that came with the manufacturers device, you will be able to do this without too much trouble. The importance of wireless networks in our day and age is extreme. Without these wireless networks, basic everyday functions cannot exist. Beyond the home network that we're using at our house, there are many other examples of wireless networks. With the most intriguing is the use of satellite wireless networks to communicate credit card transactions from vendors and merchants. Because of the need to verify credit card billing information instantly, these wireless networks must be capable of not only fast data transfer but also large amounts of data transfer at one time. These types of wireless networks are allowing our society to operate in economy in the digital realm. Banks would be lost without them in this day and age.

By FootballKing — On Nov 30, 2010

When I think of the term wireless network, I don't think cell phones or computers. Maybe this is because I'm from an old-school generation of radio experts. We used to use data communications over wireless networks years before computers were able to use the same data networks. Now you may ask, how can you have a data network without a computer? The simple truth is that Morse code has allowed for data communications in analog form for years. Just because something isn't digitalized doesn't mean that it can't be data.

The simple definition of data does not constrict it only to information technology. We were able to communicate much data over these wireless radio networks and specifically by use of ham radio for many decades now. These types of wireless networks have existed in times of emergencies and helped emergency professionals get the information they need to respond correctly to a natural disaster.

I think this is one of the main reasons that Morse code is a requirement to obtain your ham radio license permit. While it may sound like a jumbled messes of beeps and dashes to many people, once you learn Morse code you will realize that a huge amount of data can be sent over radio waves or wired communications at a fairly fast rate. Sure, it is primitive. But without these types of backup wireless networks, we may be stranded in the event of an Internet breakdown. What we you do then with your precious laptop if you simply cannot communicate over your traditional lines of Internet connectivity?

By youbiKan — On Nov 28, 2010

Many people think that a wireless network is simply the Wi-Fi network that they have at home that spreads the Internet connection they use to the computers within their house. Is simply not the case and the term wireless network actually describes many more different uses of wireless connectivity for computers.

A wireless network actually doesn't even have to connect computers together but can connect a variety of different types of devices. A good example of this is the way that cellular and mobile technology companies use wireless networks to allow for mobile phones to be used. The CDMA and GSM networks that are so popular in use today around our country and in the world by cell phone companies are perhaps the largest wireless networks that exist. While these networks were not originally develops to transmit data, they are quite capable of it and use bands of the radio frequencies that are best suited for this type of communication. These bands are extremely different from the types of bands use within our homes.

Is important to remember that the type of equipment being used for these wireless networks is also vastly different. While the transmitting power coming from one of our mobile handsets is quite insignificant, the power used at the towers that receive and transmit signals back to our mobile devices are extremely high. These costly infrastructure developments that companies have invested years of technology and money into are what allow for the lease and use of communication systems with in our country and around the world. These massive wireless networks are what allow us to be efficient in the way that we operate and do business every day.

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