Wireless communication is one of the oldest forms of telecommunication. This type of communication does not require cables or wires for people to communicate, as it uses wave signals like just like what radios, televisions, or microwave use. “A lot of basic research – especially concerning wireless propagation channels – was done for entertainment broadcasting. By the late 1930s, a wide network of wireless information transmission – through unidirectional – was in place” (Molisch, 2005, p.4). Nowadays, wireless communication is considered as the most famous technological advancement in the world. People are able to send and receive voice and data services over the air without the need for wires, which can limit their freedom and their ability to move around. During the 1990s, people in some countries were giving out signals on their own (). In the 20th century, wireless technology promised a more modern communication for the people.
In the beginning, there were only two types of networks being used and all the others were gradual development from these two. The first type of network is the Wide Area Network (WAN), which is used to cover large distances. This is the type of network that is being used by telecommunication companies. It also offers services such as data or voice for the customers. Wide Area Network is sometimes divided further into subgroups. Among these subgroups, Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) is the most important network because it covers a city or a particular area that is only a few kilometers since it has a limited range of radio waves. An exception would be the satellite networks because these can cover intercontinental distances (Dornan, 2002, p.1).
The second type of network is the Local Area Network (LAN), which can only be used for short distances, around 100 meter or less. Most of the time, this is the type of network that people install at home or in the office. This is because LANs are private networks and only accessible to the residents or employees. Personal Area Network or PAN is a kind of wireless LAN that is also short ranged and can connect devices that are within 10 meters only.
What Is Wireless and How Does It Work?
Wireless is a catchphrase for communications (both voice and data) without the use of wires (Lambert, 2003, p.8). The equipment that the user needs to make wireless communication work is not as confusing or expensive as he or she might think. The picture below explains how wireless network works.
Figure 3: A typical wireless network is comprised of desktop PCs, laptops, wireless adapters, a router, and a cable modem.
From this illustration, it can be seen that there is no need for wires to connect the computers together. The user only needs a wireless router to convert the data that comes from the modem into waves. Wireless routers can cost up to $100. If the individual uses a laptop computer, he or she needs a wireless network adapter/card to receive the signal that the wireless router is giving off. Wireless adapters cost around $60 to $75 (Geeksquad.com, 2006). Nowadays, more and more people are discovering the benefits of wireless networks. The graph shows how the use of wireless networks will increase in the future, which means that these are useful to everybody.
Figure 4: The number of subscribers of wireless services in the future (Roberts, 2007).
The benefits of using wireless technologies include the low cost and the mobility it provides to the users since there is no need to use wires and they are able to connect to more than one computer. It is important to note, however, that there are also disadvantages but since this is technology, these can always be solved by technology as well. One concern for users is that the signal range can be weak if the access point is far from the user and the computer (Service.org, 2004). To solve this, the user needs to install another access point to make the signal strong.
Figure 5: Access Point as a Repeater (Cisco.com, 2007).
Another issue is security. Any person who has knowledge in computers and networking can gain access to a network. To make sure that the network is secured, the user has to make a signal encryption. There are two ways to encrypt a network: WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and VPN (Virtual Private Network). Wi-Fi Protected Access was designed to improve the security of wireless networks. It improves the security by encrypting data and the system to ensure that only authorized network users can access the network. On the other hand, Virtual Private Networks present extended geographic connectivity, improved network security, reduction of transit time and transportation costs for remote users, and broadband and networking compatibility. Virtual Private Networks rely on tunneling to create a private network that reaches users through the Internet. This means that the computer and the modem create a special encrypted tunnel to send through data securely. The cost to setup this tunneling is free because this feature typically comes with wireless routers and anyone who can follow instructions can easily install it. Below is a picture that describes how VPNs work.
Figure 6: An animated tunneling demonstration (Tyson, 2005).
Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b)
Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, is a kind of local area network or WLAN. These are computers networked together without wires. The advantage of this is that people who have devices that allow them to connect through WLAN like Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) or laptops can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi with a wireless card. This is a small modem without having to use phone lines. People who travel can use their laptops and connect to Wi-Fi hotspots in public places (Kathleen, 2005). They can log on to the Internet to check their emails, download music, search for maps and directions, just like what they do at home when they use the Internet.
Where Can I Find Hotspots?
Hotspots are located in coffee shops, hotels and public places. It is a network that is connected to the Internet thus allowing a user to also connect to the Internet. Some of these hotspots are free but most networks are protected with passwords and require users to pay for a service to obtain access to the network. Credit cards can be used to pay for the connection and the cost also depends on the number of hours that the user was logged on and the place of the hotspot (Kathleen, 2005).
What Is the Disadvantage of Using Wireless Technology?
Security is the main issue when it comes to using wireless technology. Owners of the networks need to assign passwords to their networks and use firewalls to protect the network from unwanted visitors or hackers. In addition, setting up wireless networks can be complicated, especially for people who have little knowledge about computers. In addition, the reception of the wireless network could be weak at times and users can easily get disconnected, especially people who connect through their laptops. Connection to the Internet by wireless technology is a little bit slow during downloading contents or browsing the Internet compared to a connection using Digital Subscriber Line or DSL.
FIGURE 7: DSL faster than wireless in communication.
Another disadvantage of using wireless networks is that there are already too many companies that provide wireless services. The cost to have a wireless service is expensive with one of the most popular companies offering their services to around $200 to $500 ().
FIGURE 8: How a good signal strength looks like
Dornan, A. (2002). The Wireless World. Retrieved May 13, 2009, from http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=28262
Molisch, A. F. (2005). Wireless Communications. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.