Internet Guide Logo

Wireless Internet

Last Edit: 10/01/17

Introduction

Wireless Internet has come to prominence since about 2005-2013 - in relation to Internet access in the United Kingdom - and is becoming the primarily way in which users connect to the Internet. Before the year 2000, the vast majority of Internet users connected with a "wired" connection: usually with a combination of a ADSL broadband modem cable, ethernet cable or a lindy phone cable.

The "game changer" was the introduction of Wi-Fi to the domestic home; with widespread uptake occurring around about the year 2005. Wi-Fi - implemented with a relatively cheap Wi-Fi router connected to a home's phone socket - allows for the deployment of a cheap LAN (local area network; which means that multiple devices can connect to the Internet via one Wi-Fi router.

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to connect the wireless router with the wireless enabled devices: laptop, desktop, smartphone, tablet etc. Wi-Fi - designed for domestic homes - has a relatively low coverage area; however, many public spaces, such as: educational facilities, shopping centres, airports, hotels etc, have implemented Wi-Fi with a much larger coverage area, which are commonly referred to as "hotspots".

Alongside Wi-Fi, mobile phones and smartphones are another cornerstone of the evolution of wireless Internet. Both of these devices have the capability to connect to the Internet via a range of connection options: Wi-Fi, WAP, 3G, 4G etc. With the vast capabilities of smartphones, most popular websites have designed a "mobile" friendly version of their site. Without doubt, users have a preference for wireless Internet, and it will be the primary way in which users connect to the Internet.

Home Wireless Access: Routers

A domestic home router is a networking device which connects a personal computer to the Internet. The router sends and receives data packets from the Internet. The router is classified as a "residential gateway"; a residential gateway is a term which can be applied to a number of networking devices - with varying functions - such as a router or cable modem.

A home router currently comes in two configurations,

  1. Wired
  2. Wireless

A wired router connects via the ethernet port of a home computer, whereas a wireless router connects via a 802.11 (B, G or N) WiFi infrastructure of a home computer. The wireless router uses an antenna to send out a radio frequency which can be understood by a wireless enabled personal computer.

For a router to beable to function it requires the following: an active landline telephone line, a broadband access account with an Internet Service Provider, a microfilter for each phone socket, a home computer (such as a laptop or a desktop), and a operating system installed on the home computer which is capable of networking (such as Windows XP, Vista or 7).

Most Internet Service Providers in the UK provide a free router when you sign up for a contract. Currently, ISPs in the UK offer standard broadband (provided through a landline) and fibre optic broadband (provided through a fibre optic cable network - usually located in urban areas). Depending on the broadband package, a user will need a fibre optic router or a standard landline router.

While a wired router simple connects to a personal computer via the ethernet port - using an ethernet cable - a wireless router can use a number of wireless networking standards. A wireless 802.11b router can support a speed of 11Mbps - whereas a wireless 802.11g router can support a speed of 54Mbps - there is also a wireless 802.11n standard.

Mobile Wireless Access: Smartphones

The smartphone is currently garnering a wealth of interest and hype, and is without doubt one of the leading electronic devices (with network access) on sale at retailers up and down the UK. The smartphone, as the name suggests, is an advanced 'smarter' model of a conventional mobile phone.

The key features which separate a smartphone from a conventional mobile phone are as follows:

The computing and networking capacity of the smartphone is what sets it apart, and which, is, of course, what interests this website. Social networking websites like Twitter, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook have been specifically designed to function with ease on smartphones. The added functionality of users being able to interact with those sites on the move, without the need of a laptop/desktop etc, appears to have fueled the demand for smartphones.

This has been highlighted by a survey conducted in the UK, by Ofcom, in their Communications Market Report. The survey polled over two thousand adults and over five hundred teenagers, it found that nearly half of the teenagers polled, and over a quarter of the adults polled owned a smartphone. The survey further concluded that smartphones were changing how people socialize.

The current market leading smartphone is the Apple’s iPhone, but RIM’s BlackBerry is more popular amongst teenagers.