Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that allows devices such as computers (laptops and desktops), mobile devices (smart phones and wearables), and other equipment (printers and video cameras) to interface with the Internet. It allows these devices--and many more--to exchange information with one another, creating a network.
Internet connectivity occurs through a wireless router. When you access Wi-Fi, you are connecting to a wireless router that allows your Wi-Fi-compatible devices to interface with the Internet.
Wi-Fi is not an acronym; it is a brand name created by a marketing firm that’s meant to serve as an interoperability seal for marketing efforts.
On the technical side, the IEEE 802.11 standard defines the protocols that enable communications with current Wi-Fi-enabled wireless devices, including wireless routers and wireless access points. Wireless access points support different IEEE standards.
Each standard is an amendment that was ratified over time. The standards operate on varying frequencies, deliver different bandwidth, and support different numbers of channels.
A wireless access point (AP) allows wireless devices to connect to the wireless network. Having a Cisco wireless network makes it easy to bring new devices online and provides flexible support to mobile workers.
What a wireless access point does for your network is similar to what an amplifier does for your home stereo. An access point takes the bandwidth coming from a router and stretches it so that many devices can go on the network from farther distances away. But a wireless access point does more than simply extend Wi-Fi. It can also give useful data about the devices on the network, provide proactive security, and serve many other practical purposes.
Wireless routers are commonly found in homes. They're the hardware devices that Internet service providers use to connect you to their cable or xDSL Internet network.
A wireless router is sometimes referred to as a wireless local area network (WLAN) device. A wireless network is also called a Wi-Fi network.
A wireless router combines the networking functions of a wireless access point and a router. Read more about wireless routers.
The most common way for users to connect to the Internet wirelessly is with a desktop wireless (Wi-Fi) router. These routers look like small boxes with multiple short antennas to help broadcast the signal throughout a home or workplace. The farther a user is from the base Wi-Fi router, the weaker the signal. So multiple wireless routers, called range extenders, usually are placed throughout the workspace. Wi-Fi range extenders, placed in an array, boost or extend Internet coverage.
A mobile hotspot is a common feature on smartphones with both tethered and untethered connections. When you turn on your phone’s mobile hotspot, you share your wireless network connection with other devices that can then access the Internet.
A portable Wi-Fi hotspot is a mobile hotspot obtained through a cell phone carrier. It's a small device that uses cellular towers that broadcast high-speed 3G or 4G broadband signals. Multiple devices, like iPads and laptops, can then connect wirelessly to the device, which in turn seamlessly connects to the Internet where ever you travel. Similar to a cell phone, the portable hotspot's monthly cost is based on the data usage plan you select. A portable Wi-Fi hotspot is a more reliable way to access the Internet than searching for static public Wi-Fi hotspots.
There are four different types of deployments that an organization can choose from to create a wireless network. Each deployment has its own attributes that will work better for different solutions.
Unique to the Cisco Wi-Fi network, Mobility Express is a simple, high-performance wireless solution for small or medium-sized organizations. It has the full complement of advanced Cisco features that are preconfigured with Cisco best practices. The defaults allow for a quick and effortless deployment that can be operational in minutes. It’s perfect for small business basic networking.
The most common type of wireless network system, traditionally deployed in campuses where buildings and networks are in close proximity. This deployment consolidates the wireless network, allowing for easier upgrades and enabling advanced wireless functionality. Controllers are based on-premises and are installed in a centralized location.
A solution tailored for small campuses or branch offices. It provides customers with consistency in their wireless and wired connections. This deployment converges wired and wireless on one network device--an access switch--and performs the dual role of both switch and wireless controller.
Cloud-based deployment: A system that uses the cloud to manage network devices deployed on-premises at different locations. The solution requires Cisco Meraki cloud-managed devices, which have full visibility of the network through their dashboards.