How Wireless Networks Works

Wireless networks work using radio waves instead ofwires to transmit data between computers. That's the simple version. Ifyou're curious to know what's going on in more detail, then it's allexplained in this article.

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I'm sure you know that computerstransmit data digitally, using binary: ones and zeros. This is a way ofcommunicating that translates very well to radio waves, since thecomputer can transmit ones and zeros as different kinds of beep. Thesebeeps are so fast that they're outside a human's hearing range -- radiowaves that you can't hear are, in fact, all around you all the time.

Theway it works is a lot like Morse code. You probably already know thatMorse code is a way of representing the alphabet so that it can betransmitted over radio using a dot (short beep) and a dash (longdash).More importantly for this example, though; it is a binary system,just like a computer's ones and zeros. You might think of wirelessnetworking, then, as being like Morse code for computers. You plug acombined radio receiver and transmitter in, and the computer is able tosend out its equivalent of dots and dashes (bits, in computer-speak) toget your data from one place to another.

You might wonder how thecomputer could possibly transmit enough bits to send and receive dataat the speed it does. After all, there must be a limit on how much canbe sent in a second before it just becomes useless nonsense, right?Well, yes, but the key to wireless networking is that it gets aroundthis problem.

First of all, wireless transmissions are sent atvery high frequencies, meaning that more data can be sent per second.Most wireless connections use a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz (2.4 billioncycles per second) -- a similar frequency to mobile phones andmicrowave ovens. As you might know, though, a frequency this high meansthat the wavelength must be very short, which is why wirelessnetworking only works over a limited area.

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In addition, wirelessnetworks make use of a technique known as 'frequency hopping'. They usedozens of frequencies in the range they are given, and constantlyswitch between them. This makes wireless networks more immune tointerference from other radio signals than they would be if they onlytransmitted on one frequency.

The final step is when it comes toall the computers on a network sharing Internet access. This is doneusing a special piece of wireless equipment called an access point.Access points are more expensive than wireless cards for one computer,as they contain radios that are capable of talking to around 100computers at the same time, and sharing out access to the Internetbetween them. Dedicated access points are only really essential forlarger networks, though -- if you only have a few computers, it ispossible to use one of them as the access point, or you could just geta wireless router.

That's all well and good, then, but how doeswireless equipment made by entirely different companies manage to worktogether when this is all so complicated? Well, the answer is thatthere are standards that all wireless devices follow. These standardsare technically called the 802.11 standards, and are set by the IEEE(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). It is thanks topeople sticking to their standards that wireless networking is so easyand cheap to use today.

Gregg Hall is a consultant to the internet industry with over12 years experience online. You may find more information at BusinessWebhosting