Wi-Fi

Cheat Sheet: Wi-fi

Everything you ever wanted to know about wireless internet access but were afraid to ask

Getting online when you have a coffee or a pint, that sort of thing?
You're not wrong. Since the turn of the century, wi-fi hotspots have really taken off and it's almost impossible now to find a public place or office that doesn't offer wi-fi access. ABI Research predicts there will be 179,000 wi-fi hotspots worldwide this year, with the hospitality industry leading the way in providing access.

Bit pricey though isn't it? £6 for half an hour and all that sort of thing. Especially at hotels.
Quite. silicon.com is running a fair wi-fi campaign encouraging those offering pay-per-use wi-fi hotspots to keep their prices reasonable.

But it's not all about access out and about, is it? Seems like everyone I know has a wireless network at home...
Well spotted. With UK broadband penetration reaching 50 per cent of homes, most new sign-ups are asking for wi-fi rather than fixed-line and most ISPs throw the necessary networking kit in for free. You might think they're being altruistic but it's their way of pushing the next generation of broadband services - wireless gaming and FMC, for example.

Businesses remain at the forefront of adoption and recent figures suggest around 60 per cent of companies have WLAN capabilities in their offices.

And these wireless cities I hear talk of - the ones with blanket access - what's all that about?
Several large cities around the world, from London to Norwich, Taipei to San Francisco have announced they're rolling out blanket wi-fi access.

While some have predicted such deployments will lead to more widespread use of VoIP over WLAN, anecdotal evidence suggests many of the rollouts will need a bandwidth boost before they can be used for such purposes.

I've heard a lot of talk about WiMax, how it's going to displace wi-fi because it has longer range and faster speeds. Or something. Is wi-fi a bit slow then?
Interesting question. Work is ongoing on improving the capacities of wi-fi and the Wi-Fi Alliance is shortly to certify equipment to work with the upcoming 802.11n wi-fi standard, which promises speeds of 200Mbps to 300Mbps and an improved range of around 50 metres.

But it's not all hunky-dory in wi-fi world, so I hear. Aren't there health concerns about wireless internet?
Indeed there are. Lately something of a storm has been brewing over worries that a so-called 'electromagnetic smog' caused by wi-fi could have a negative impact on health. A silicon.com poll revealed readers are roughly split on the issue.

And I've heard there's all sorts of security worries too.
That's right. A lot of individuals and businesses are apparently not securing their wireless networks. silicon.com's CIO Jury said they consider rogue hotspots to be a security threat and several high profile hacks - including the TJX breach where more than 45 million customer records were stolen - were carried out using wi-fi as the attack vector.

While lawyers have warned wi-fi use has its own associated legal risks for companies, there are risks of legal sanctions for those who fancy stealing a little of someone else's connectivity, a practice known as war driving.

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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