Wireless Internet access, sometimes referred to as a "hot spot" if it's available to the public, is a local area network (LAN) run by radio waves rather than wires. It is broadcast from a central hub, which is a hard-wired device that actually brings in the Internet connection. The hub, located at the main computer system or server, broadcasts Internet connectivity to clients, which includes basically anyone within receiving range who is equipped with a wireless LAN card and a password to the network, if it's secured.
In the home, a desktop system setup for wireless Internet access will broadcast connectivity throughout the immediate area. Any family member with a laptop or desktop in another room can connect wirelessly to the Internet to share the main connection. Neighbors may also be able to access this wireless connection, which is why most wireless LANs are configured with password security. In this case, any machine that wishes to connect wirelessly must first complete a "handshake" with the LAN, in which the password is requested. If the proper password is not supplied, access is denied. Security protocols have improved with Wi Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wi Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) options.
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While wireless Internet access is very convenient in the home, it can be even more so in the workplace. A wired network can be not only very time consuming to install throughout a building, it is also very expensive. Ethernet cables used to connect client machines might need to be routed through walls, ceilings, and floors. In the past, this disadvantage was sometimes overlooked due to the advantages of greater security and faster data transfer speeds through these cables.
These advantages have been largely mitigated, however. Wireless LANs can be installed in virtually minutes by nearly anyone, are extremely inexpensive, and can have data transfer rates that rival hard-wired Ethernet LANs. Furthermore, WPA2 encrypts all traffic on the LAN, addressing the problem of eavesdropping.
One of the most popular applications for wireless Internet access is the public hot spot. Internet cafes are one example of places where one can sit with a laptop and sip coffee while cruising the Internet, checking email, or doing research. Cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) equipped with Web browsers can also use these access points through public hot spots.
Some localities provide free wireless Internet for residents and visitors. Since wireless LANs use radio waves that distort over long distances, the radius of the signal is limited, and the further from the hub, the weaker the signal. Cities that provide access, therefore, will typically cover a specific area within the city where people can park to gain access.
The technology for wireless LANs is improving constantly. When designing a new wireless network, the person setting it up should be sure to get network cards, a hub, and a wireless modem that support the latest protocols and security measures. Instructions should be followed carefully when configuring the wireless network.