What is Wifi?

25 May 2015

You’ve heard the term WiFi but do you understand exactly how it works and how to use it? We explain in plain English all you need to know about WiFi.



The term WiFi stands for Wireless Fidelity, but really just means wireless internet.

Most of us have grown accustomed to being able to access the internet wirelessly on our laptops and mobile devices. But how does the internet reach us without a wired connection?

Basically, a WiFi connection can be compared to a radio. When we want to listen to a radio station, we tune in to a specific radio frequency carried by the station. If a transmitter is within range, we get a clear signal and no distortion. 

As we move out of range of the transmitter, the signal becomes scratchy and finally all we get is static.

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How does WiFi work?

The two most important components of a wireless computer are the wireless adapter in the computer and the wireless router. 

The router is the device that picks up WiFi signals from wireless transmission towers and the adapter in the computer allows the signal to be decoded and transferred to the computer via a radio signal.

Although mobile phones, tablets and other mobile devices don’t have visible router antennae, they work in a similar manner.

What is a WiFi hotspot?

A WiFi ‘hotspot’ is a location that has a wireless router tuned to a specific frequency.

Hotspots have a limited range, but they usually extend beyond the hotspot’s physical location. In order to limit use to customers, a password is needed to access the hotspot’s router.

While hotspots are usually thought of as existing in commercial premises, if you have a wireless router in your home, it acts as a personal hotspot, allowing you and others with your password to use WiFi-enabled devices anywhere in the house or within range of the router.

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Setting up your WiFi connection

Once you have the necessary hardware, setting up your WiFi connection is easy.

First, make sure your wireless router is turned on. Then find your WiFi settings. 

On an iPad, they will be under Settings/WiFi. On a Windows computer, they will be under Control Panel/Network Connections/Wireless Network Connection. Right click “Properties,” choose the hotspot you want to connect to and enter the password provided by management.

WiFi connections are also available on smartphones. If you have a 3G- or 4G-enabled smartphone, it’s a good idea to make a habit of connecting to a WiFi hotspot when you have the opportunity.

When you use your phone’s connection, it will use your data and cost you money, whereas the hotspot connection is free.

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WiFi security

Using WiFi in public places is convenient, but there are some security risks involved.

To protect yourself, never use an unsecured WiFi location (a WiFi connection that doesn’t require a password). 

Without password security, your connection could be hacked and you may inadvertently share sensitive information with a cyber-thief.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.