What is Wireless Networking – guest post

What is Wireless Networking?

Wireless networking is just what it sounds like — a way of creating networks without any wires! If this sounds exciting to you, then read on.

With a wireless network, you can create radio connections between computers that let them communicate and connect to the Internet without you having to go to all the trouble of connecting them with wires. The computers don’t even need to have a clear path for the signal, as the wireless signal can go through walls and between floors easily.

Where Did It Come From?

The story of wireless networking is a rather strange one. It is basically an application of a technology called frequency hopping which was, believe it or not, invented by the actress Hedy Lamarr and a musician named George Antheil, back in the 1940s. Seriously, do a web search — I promise I’m not pulling your leg here.

They received a patent for their invention, which was intended to help in the war effort. Hedy was Jewish, but had been made to hide it and socialise with Hitler as a young woman — she had to drug her husband and run away to London to escape her native Austria. The importance of what they’d done, however, wasn’t recognised until many years later.

The U.S. military adopted the technique in the ’60s, using it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hedy never saw any money from it as the patent had expired (don’t worry, she was a film star!), but she was given a Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997, three years before her death.

Wireless at Home.

When most people talk about wireless networks, they are talking about wireless LANs (local area networks). A local area network doesn’t mean that it covers your whole neighbourhood — the ‘local area’ in question can be only one building, such as your house. So if you want wireless networking in your home, you want a wireless LAN.

Once people have wireless in their home, they always seem to act as if there’s been an absolute miracle. After years of drilling holes in the walls and running wires all over the place, suddenly seeing them gone is really amazing.

The Myths.

Wireless networking is expensive. Well, wireless networking used to be expensive when it was new, but now the prices have come way down thanks to competition and mass production. There are hundreds of manufacturers of wireless equipment, with something for every budget. Your costs will depend on how many computers you want to connect and how far apart they are, but a typical family should still be able to do it for less than $100 overall. If you’re willing to leave one of the computers on whenever you’re using the other one, you could do it for as little as $20! Best of all, once you’ve spend the money, there’s nothing more to pay after that.

Wireless networking is hard. Again, this myth is a holdover from the early days of wireless. It used to be very difficult, with you needing to fiddle endlessly with the configuration on each computer just to get the simplest things to work. Now, though, Windows supports wireless out of the box, and setting it up is easier than ever. You can usually plug in what you’ve bought, put the CD in the computer and then sit back and watch it all work perfectly!

Wireless networking is insecure. You might think it’s dangerous to have all your personal data floating around in the air for anyone to read. Well, if you want, it’s dead easy to enable encryption for your wireless signals. It’s already difficult for outsiders to intercept wireless signals at all, and they certainly won’t be able to decode them as well.

Not Just at Home.

It was home users that were quickest to adopt wireless technology, willing to pay any amount to finally be free of needing to run wires all over their house. Since then, though, the technology has started to spread to offices, universities, and all sorts of other places.

Chains of coffee shops and cafes have found that their customers will stay for hours if they offer wireless Internet access, and it’s also becoming more common in hotels and airports. This means that once you set up a laptop for wireless, it becomes far more portable than it ever was before.

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