We search for it. We ask for it. Sometimes, we even share it. But what exactly is Wi-Fi?
At its most basic, Wi-Fi is a wireless networking standard that determines how devices communicate with one another. The term was developed by an international association of companies that emphasized security, reliability and interoperability. Now, everything from refrigerators and slow cookers to gaming consoles and streaming devices relies on Wi-Fi connections and those standards.
So, that’s the definition of what Wi-Fi is. But what is it not? A Wi-Fi connection alone isn’t the internet. Instead, it’s one route between your devices and the internet.
With Wi-Fi, your devices are typically accessing a router that transmits and receives wireless signals. It’s that router that has a physical link to the internet. It seems simple enough. Your devices transmit signals picked up by the Wi-Fi router connected to the online world. However, there are a few other points to consider as not every Wi-Fi router is equal.
As new technologies develop, they are added to the next generation of Wi-Fi routers. Decoding some of the details can help you match your devices to your Wi-Fi setup. When researching Wi-Fi routers you may have seen the number 802.11 followed by a letter or two — a, b, g, n, ac or ax. Each newer standard is faster and more reliable. If you have an older device using the older 802.11n standard, it will work fine with a newer 802.11ax router. However, that older device likely would not be able to take advantage of the latest features.
A basic understanding of these standards can prove useful when connecting smart home gadgets like security cameras, light switches and more. Review the documentation for each device to make sure it’s compatible with your Wi-Fi setup.
Most computers and mobile devices can communicate through Wi-Fi, giving you a reliable, wireless internet connection. There are some potential exceptions, however, such as limited range, disruption by large metal objects — even something like a refrigerator — or stone walls.
It’s always best to place your router as close as possible to the devices that need to be connected. Generally, the center of a home is ideal. There are options, though, if obstructions block the signal or access is needed in multiple rooms. Extenders or Wi-Fi systems that create a mesh of small connected Wi-Fi access points throughout a house are among the possibilities.
And please remember one thing if your internet-connected devices seem to be lagging. A great trouble-shooting technique is to unplug your router, wait a minute and reconnect it. This doesn’t solve every problem, but it’s a great place to start.