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How a Wireless Network Works
The data connection comes from the modem to a wireless router that translates the signal to radio waves which are transmitted via an antenna. Your cellphone or computer receives that information which is then translated by an adapter back into data you see on your screen.
The router got its name because it routes the incoming signal to different receivers. If you didnt have a router you would connect the modem directly to your computer. Having a router, though, allows you to share the one Internet signal between multiple devices.
Think of it as a traffic signal or traffic cop for your Internet. When the signal comes in, it directs the data to the computer that requested it.
The Different Types of Signals - B, G, and N
Back in 1999 a group of six companies got together to form the WiFi Alliance in order promote the adoption of wireless networking based on specifications set by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering). These specs are numbered in a Dewey Decimal-like system to differentiate between the different technologies so people know proper usage. When you see 802.11, that refers to the family of wireless specs. The numbering of these specs includes letters on the end of the number, which is why you see 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. The different letters indicate improvements in speed and technology for wireless networks.
This was the first widely used standard set forth in 1999. It transmits the signal at 2.4 GHz, with a theoretical speed of 11 Mbps. In practice, the speeds are closer to four to five Mbps. The range for indoor reception is about 100 feet.
G is a more advanced generation of wireless networking. Still transmitting at 2.4 GHz, the theoretical speed is now bumped up to 54 Mbps. Most people experience speeds slightly less than half that in real life. The range indoors is similar to b networks.
N is the latest generation, having been developed in 2009. N networks can operate at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz with a maximum speed around 600 Mbps under the best configuration. Actually speeds will be closer to 130 to 150 Mbps. The range for 802.11n products is advertised as roughly twice that of g products. The reason for the dramatic improvements of n is due to the multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology that allows the transmission of multiple streams through multiple antennas.
In practice, users will never get the maximum speed advertised by these specs. This is because the number represents speeds under ideal conditions, meaning you would have to be very close to the signal source and the only one using it. Speed decreases when more people are connected because they all share the same bandwidth.
It also slows down the further away you are from the source because the system compensates by slowing down so your data transfer is more reliable. Your furniture, desk, walls, and other indoors items attenuate the signal indoors, which is why you can get a signal farther away when outdoors. Networks can also experience interference from other products transmitting around the same 2.4 GHz frequency. Microwave ovens are the most common culprit.