WiFi is the short form for Wireless Fidility. Wi-Fi is the name for a collection of standards defined by the Wi-Fi alliance . The standards are defined for use in a local area network (LAN), commonly used by personal computers. It is based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications, which is the only specification used for Wi-Fi for now, although new ones are under development.
A Wireless LAN ( WLAN or WiFi ) is a data transmission system designed to provide location independent network access between computing devices by using radio waves rather than a cable infrastructure. In the corporate enterprise, wireless LANs are usually implemented as the final link between the existing wired network and a group of client computers, giving these users wireless access to the full resources and services of the corporate network across a building or campus setting.
The widespread acceptance of WLANs depends on industry standardization to ensure product compatibility and reliability among the various manufacturers. The 802.11 specification [ IEEE Std 802.11 (ISO/IEC 8802-11: 1999) ] as a standard for wireless LANS was ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in the year 1997. This version of 802.11 provides for 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps data rates and a set of fundamental signaling methods and other services. Like all IEEE 802 standards, the 802.11 standards focus on the bottom two levels the ISO model, the physical layer and link layer (see figure below). Any LAN application, network operating system, protocol, including TCP/IP and Novell NetWare, will run on an 802.11-compliant WLAN as easily as they run over Ethernet.
Normally Wi-Fi setup contains one or more Access Points (APs) and one or more clients. An AP broadcasts its SSID (Service Set Identifier, Network name) via packets that are called beacons , which are broadcasted every 100ms. The beacons are transmitted at 1Mbps, and are relatively short and therefore are not of influence on performance. Since 1Mbps is the lowest rate of Wi-Fi it assures that the client who receives the beacon can communicate at at least 1Mbps. Based on the settings (i.e. the SSID), the client may decide whether to connect to an AP. Also the firmware running on the client Wi-Fi card is of influence. Say two AP's of the same SSID are in range of the client, the firmware may decide based on signal strength ( Signal-to-noise ratio ) to which of the two AP's it will connect. The Wi-Fi standard leaves connection criteria and roaming totally open to the client. This is a strength of Wi-Fi, but also means that one wireless adapter may perform substantially better than the other. Since Windows XP there is a feature called zero configuration which makes the user show any network available and let the end user connect to it on the fly. In the future wireless cards will be more and more controlled by the operating system. Microsoft's newest feature called SoftMAC will take over from on-board firmware. Having said this, roaming criteria will be totally controlled by the operating system. Wi-Fi transmits in the air, it has the same properties as a non-switched ethernet network. Even collisions can therefore appear like in non-switched ethernet LAN's.
Advantages of Wi-Fi
Unlike packet radio systems, Wi-Fi uses unlicensed radio spectrum and does not require regulatory approval for individual deployers.
Allows LANs to be deployed without cabling, potentially reducing the costs of network deployment and expansion. Spaces where cables cannot be run, such as outdoor areas and historical buildings, can host wireless LANs.
Wi-Fi products are widely available in the market. Different brands of access points and client network interfaces are interoperable at a basic level of service.
Competition amongst vendors has lowered prices considerably since their inception.
Wi-Fi networks support roaming, in which a mobile client station such as a laptop computer can move from one access point to another as the user moves around a building or area.
Many access points and network interfaces support various degrees of encryption to protect traffic from interception.
Wi-Fi is a global set of standards. Unlike cellular carriers, the same Wi-Fi client works in different countries around the world.