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What is Wireless Internet Access?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Wireless Internet access, sometimes referred to as a "hot spot" if it's available to the public, is a local area network (LAN) run by radio waves rather than wires. It is broadcast from a central hub, which is a hard-wired device that actually brings in the Internet connection. The hub, located at the main computer system or server, broadcasts Internet connectivity to clients, which includes basically anyone within receiving range who is equipped with a wireless LAN card and a password to the network, if it's secured.

In the home, a desktop system setup for wireless Internet access will broadcast connectivity throughout the immediate area. Any family member with a laptop or desktop in another room can connect wirelessly to the Internet to share the main connection. Neighbors may also be able to access this wireless connection, which is why most wireless LANs are configured with password security. In this case, any machine that wishes to connect wirelessly must first complete a "handshake" with the LAN, in which the password is requested. If the proper password is not supplied, access is denied. Security protocols have improved with Wi Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wi Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) options.

While wireless Internet access is very convenient in the home, it can be even more so in the workplace. A wired network can be not only very time consuming to install throughout a building, it is also very expensive. Ethernet cables used to connect client machines might need to be routed through walls, ceilings, and floors. In the past, this disadvantage was sometimes overlooked due to the advantages of greater security and faster data transfer speeds through these cables.

These advantages have been largely mitigated, however. Wireless LANs can be installed in virtually minutes by nearly anyone, are extremely inexpensive, and can have data transfer rates that rival hard-wired Ethernet LANs. Furthermore, WPA2 encrypts all traffic on the LAN, addressing the problem of eavesdropping.

One of the most popular applications for wireless Internet access is the public hot spot. Internet cafes are one example of places where one can sit with a laptop and sip coffee while cruising the Internet, checking email, or doing research. Cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) equipped with Web browsers can also use these access points through public hot spots.

Some localities provide free wireless Internet for residents and visitors. Since wireless LANs use radio waves that distort over long distances, the radius of the signal is limited, and the further from the hub, the weaker the signal. Cities that provide access, therefore, will typically cover a specific area within the city where people can park to gain access.

The technology for wireless LANs is improving constantly. When designing a new wireless network, the person setting it up should be sure to get network cards, a hub, and a wireless modem that support the latest protocols and security measures. Instructions should be followed carefully when configuring the wireless network.

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Discussion Comments

By kiya — On Aug 21, 2010

I just got a new laptop and was really wondering if when I wirelessly connect to a random connection is that illegal and is it free. Because I have no idea what my connection is. And if I connect to my home connection is that free? Basically I am clueless about the whole thing.

By anon95754 — On Jul 13, 2010

I am exploring a conversion of dial-up service on my current desktop to a dell laptop using wireless internet technology. What hardware and software is required on laptop to setup wifi wireless internet connection? Are at&t wifi and optimum wifi comparable to each other? Please cite advantages and disadvantages with both.

By anon81292 — On Apr 30, 2010

how to i persuade my technophobe dad to get our house wireless internet?

By anon62099 — On Jan 24, 2010

Look up multipolarized antennas. Without question this antenna technology is superior for anyone using wireless technology. If you want to keep the signal - in obstructed environments - use mp technology.

By anon58760 — On Jan 04, 2010

some of you shouldn't have computers.

By anon49430 — On Oct 20, 2009

I have 3 PCs. 2 of which I would like to setup with wireless connections and the 2 are in different rooms within the home. How would I go about it?

By anon47625 — On Oct 06, 2009

how far is the area range for wifi?

By anon38738 — On Jul 28, 2009

We are building a home where we will have no cable access and no telephone land line. We will have cell phone service (Verizon) and satellite television (Direct TV). What are our options for internet connection?

By dawells2 — On May 26, 2009

I am such a novice. I own a home and a vacation home in the same state. Right now I have wireless internet at both, but it costs me nearly $80 a month. Am I missing something? I probably use the vacation home for only 4 or 5 weeks a year but like to be able to do work from there when needed. I carry the same laptop for use at both homes.

By anon31025 — On Apr 28, 2009

Is wireless internet service the only one that doesn't require a pre-installed landline?

By vivi33am — On Mar 27, 2009

I have a desk top computer. It is connected to a dsl modem in my bedroom. I am setting up an office in another part of my home that does not have a phone jack. I don't want to pay the phone company $200 to install one. What device can I connect to get wireless internet?

By deborah — On Mar 19, 2009

I have dial up internet in my home and I got a laptop. Can I use a wireless router and a wireless adapter and get wireless internet on my laptop?

By theused72588 — On Dec 06, 2008

Help, I know what wireless internet is but there is a constant problem that I have;

I have 2 homes, one in NH and one in FL, 3 people and we all want to be online at the same time, 1 phone line in FL, 2 in NH, 2 aol internet dial up accounts, and not a lot of money to spare. How can we all be online at the same time? 2 laptops, 3 desktops(NH). I've looked at wireless and satellite internet, but have no idea how to fix this problem. 2 of us want to be online at the same time in fl on top of this since we only have 2 dial up accounts, if the person in nh is on one of them, only 2 people can be on at a time. We are also very tired of the speed and constantly being kicked offline. Help please, if you need more info let me know~

By anon22538 — On Dec 05, 2008

In the case that you just need the internet connection while you are away from home you may want to look into rent mobile broadband cards.

By spiderwheels — On Dec 05, 2008

Do you get better wireless with a/b/g/n networking on your laptop?

By anon21975 — On Nov 25, 2008

What about WiMAX?

What type of wireless internet is best for travelers or those who will be moving?

By anon18910 — On Oct 01, 2008

we have a comcast cable (LAN) in our office. Our new neighbor upstairs wants us to let him set up a wireless router in our office, so he can use the internet upstairs. We have 2 lines coming in, so he wants to use 1 cable line for the wireless router while we use the other cable line direct to our wired modem. Is this a bad idea? will it affect our speed? or our security? any help in this subject would be great. thx.

By ColeBill — On Aug 03, 2008

We live too far from town to get DSL. I can't install satellite, because my house is surrounded by tall trees (No - I will not cut them down). I have two desktop computers, connected to the internet only via dialup. Although both have 56k modems, the phone lines (I have two) will only support half that rate.

What do I need to do to get wireless internet for both computers?

By anon15334 — On Jul 08, 2008

I have a AT&T laptop connect card to use with my laptop, can it be also be used to connect my desktop computer at home to the internet?

By Dayton — On May 01, 2007

Essentially, there are a few things to consider.

First, I assume that your laptop is new and is therefore already set up with hardware/software to be able to access the internet wirelessly. Let's go with that assumption.

To get wifi outdoors, there has to be a router providing a wireless signal. If you already have internet at home, you could install a wireless router to your existing connection.

In many neighborhoods, people purposefully leave their wireless network "open" so that others may use it for free, so you may find that there is wifi access available to you already.

If you don't have a home connection, wireless broadband may be the way to go, because it's very mobile and easy to use. For that, you do need to sign up for a service.

Hope this helps! Any additional advice/comments are welcome!

By anon635 — On Apr 30, 2007

i just bought a laptop. What must I do to get wyfi wireless outdoors in Portland?

Do I need to sign up for a service?

Thanks, David

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