Wireless Networking Glossary
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New technology means new vocabulary, and that’s certainly true when it comes to wireless networking. Whether you’re considering installing Wi-Fi at home or just want to familiarize yourself with common lingo, you’ll be able to quickly get a better understanding of wireless networking by learning some key terms here.
3G (third generation)—The third generation of mobile phone standards and technology, often called mobile broadband, enables faster data-transmission speeds, greater network capacity and more advanced network services than 2G and 2.5G technologies. 3G services include wide area wireless voice and data coverage, real-time video and Internet access—all in a mobile environment.
802.11—A set of standards for carrying out wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication in the 2.4, 3.6 and 5 GHz frequency bands. These standards are implemented by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Committee. 802.11 was the first WLAN standard implemented in 1997 by IEEE, and it supported a maximum network bandwidth of 2 Mbps (megabits per second), which is too slow for most of today’s applications. For this reason, ordinary 802.11 wireless products are no longer manufactured. The 802.11 family of standards, including 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n, are offshoots of the original standards.
802.11g—A wireless local area network (WLAN) standard implemented by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 802.11g supports bandwidth up to 54 Mbps (megabits per second) and uses the 2.4 Ghz frequency for greater range. 802.11g is backwards-compatible with 802.11b, meaning that 802.11g access points will work with 802.11b wireless network adapters and vice versa.
Amplifier—An amplifier is an electrical device used to strengthen the power of a wireless signal when sent over longer distances.
Amplitude—The strength of a wireless signal, measured in decibels (dBs).
AP (access point)—Generally a standalone device in a wireless local area network (WLAN) that plugs into an Ethernet switch. APs act as a communication hub by transmitting and receiving data to connect users within the network. A small WLAN may only require a single AP but additional APs may be required as the number of network users and the physical size of the network increase.
Bandwidth—A raw measurement of the speed with which wireless data is transmitted. Bandwidth depends on what wireless protocol is used (802.11b. 802.11g, etc.) and how much of the signal is available for processing. The weaker the signal, the lower the bandwidth.
Bluetooth—A technology that uses low-power radio signals to wirelessly network cell phones, computers, headsets and other Bluetooth-ready peripherals over short distances (typically up to 30 feet). Although Bluetooth uses the same 2.4 Ghz range as 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking, Bluetooth technology is not a replacement for Wi-Fi. Compared to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth networking is slower, more limited in range and supports fewer devices.
Encryption—The security measure that scrambles plain text messages into a difficult-to-interpret format as a way to protect confidentiality, integrity and authenticity of the message from hackers and identity thieves. Encryption uses an encryption algorithm and one or more encryption keys to scramble the message.
Ethernet—A hard-wired local area network (LAN) that connects computers, printers, workstations and other devices within the same building or area. Many electronics today, including new computers, TVs and Blu-ray players come Ethernet-network ready.
Firewall—A hardware or software component designed to block unauthorized access to a computer system or network while permitting authorized communications. A firewall can permit, deny, encrypt, decrypt or proxy all computer traffic between different security domains based on defined security settings.
GHz (gigahertz)—A unit used to measure the frequency of wireless signals. One GHz is one billion hertz (cycles per second).
Gobi—A Qualcomm chipset technology designed to provide built-in, high-speed, flexible cellular connectivity to 3G networks. Laptops and other electronic devices with embedded Gobi technology can make 3G connections through mobile service providers without additional hardware and software. Unlike ordinary embedded broadband interfaces that require service through a specific provider, Gobi technology lets users change wireless service providers to take advantage of the best coverage in a geographic area, and allow connectivity when traveling internationally. Also see 3G.
IP (Internet protocol) address—A numerical logical address assigned to a computer or device used to locate that device within a network attached to an IP network. Every client, server and network device is assigned an IP address. To locate a device in the network, the logical IP address is converted to a physical address by a function within the TCP/IP protocol software. The physical address is actually built into the hardware. Also see MAC address.
kHz (kilohertz)—A unit used to measure the frequency of wireless signals. One kHz is one-thousand hertz (cycles per second).
LAN (local area network)—A computer network that covers a small physical area, such as a home, school or office building. LANs offer faster data-transfer rates compared to wide area networks (WANs), and are useful for sharing resources like files, printers, games or other applications. LANs can also be connected to the Internet or other networks.
MAC (media access control) address—A unique 48-bit identifier for computers on an Internet protocol (IP) network. The MAC address is commonly written as a sequence of 12 hexadecimal digits, such as 12-3A-4B-56-78-CD. Within in network, access points and routers keep track of the MAC addresses of all wireless devices that connect to them. Also called physical address.
MHz (megahertz)—A unit used to measure the frequency of wireless signals. One MHz is one million hertz (cycles per second).
Network adapter—A hardware component that connects a computer to a local area network (LAN). There are a variety of network adapter forms, including traditional PCI Ethernet cards, PCMCIA devices (also know as “credit card” or “PC card” adapters) and USB devices. These adapters can be preinstalled in laptops or added to existing devices to create a network connection. Also called network card, network interface controller or LAN adapter.
SSID (service set identifier)—The name assigned to a Wi-Fi (WLAN) network. All devices within the network must use this same, case-sensitive name, which contains up to 32 characters, to communicate. Device manufacturers typically ship their products with the same SSID. While knowing the SSID alone does not enable hackers to break into a home network, using a default SSID is a sign of a poorly configured network. When configuring a WLAN, it’s recommended that the default SSID be changed as soon as possible to a more secure pass code.
WAN (wide area network)—A computer network that covers a broad physical area, such a city, state or country. WANs are used to connect local area networks (LANs) and other types of networks to allow computers in one location to communicate with computers in other locations. The largest and most popular WAN is the Internet.
Wi-Fi—A wireless Ethernet network, Wi-Fi uses a wireless access point to connect mobile devices, such as laptops or handheld devices, to a local area network (LAN). These wireless access points or “hotspots” are commonly used in homes, coffee shops, airports and other public places to share an Internet connection.
Wi-Fi hotspot—A location that offers high-speed Internet access over a wireless local area network (WLAN) for free or for a minimum fee per day. Wi-Fi hotspots are commonly used in coffee shops, airports or other public spaces that frequently have Internet users. A Wi-Fi hotspot usually has a range of 300–500 feet and can provide access for up to 20–50 users, depending on the access point installation. Also see Wi-Fi and WLAN.
Wireless router—A hardware device that combines a wireless access point (WAP), a wired local area network (LAN) switch and a modem with connections to a cable or DSL Internet service. Wireless routers provide a convenient way to connect computers to the Internet without running cables from the computers to the router. Internet connectivity is dependent on the strength of the wireless signal.
WLAN (wireless local area network)—Also known as Wi-Fi, WLAN uses a wireless access point to connect mobile devices, such as laptops or handheld devices, to the local area network. These wireless access points or “hotspots” are commonly used in homes, coffee shops, airports and other public places.
WWAN (wireless wide area network)—Also known as mobile broadband, WWAN is provided by cellular tower technology from mobile operators via 3G (third generation) wireless networks. Because of the vast geographical coverage provided by cell phone companies, WWAN can provide high-speed wireless connections in places where Wi-Fi may not be available.