Definitions and Examples of Wireless Technology

A guide to understanding wireless technology

The Wireless Connection
The Wireless Connection
A smartphone and a wireless network
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With smartphones, tablets, and laptops taking over the world, the term wireless has become part of our everyday vernacular. In the most basic and obvious sense, wireless refers to communications sent without wires or cables, but within that broad idea are more specific uses of the term wireless, from cellular networks to local Wi-Fi networks.

Wireless is a broad term that encompasses all sorts of technologies and devices that transmit data over the air rather than over wires, including cellular communications, networking between computers with wireless adapters and wireless computer accessories.

Wireless communications travel over the air via electromagnetic waves such as radio frequencies, infrared and satellite. The FCC regulates radio frequency bands in this spectrum so it doesn't get too crowded and ensures that wireless devices and services will operate reliably.

Wireless can also mean that the device draws power wirelessly but most of the time, wireless just means that there are no cords involved in data transfers.

Examples of Wireless Devices

When someone says the word "wireless," they could be talking about a number of things (FCC regulated or not) that don't include wires. Cordless phones are wireless devices, as are TV remote controls, radios and GPS systems.

Other Examples of wireless devices include cell phones, PDAs, wireless mice, wireless keyboards, wireless routers, wireless network cards, and pretty much anything else that doesn't use wires to transmit information.

Wireless chargers are another type of wireless device. Though no data is sent through a wireless charger, it does interact with another device (like a phone) without using wires.

Wireless Networking and Wi-Fi

Networking technologies that connect multiple computers and devices together without wires (like in a wireless local area network) also fall under the wireless umbrella. Often, instead of referring to just 'wireless' for these technologies, the term Wi-Fi will be used (which is trademarked by the Wi-Fi Alliance).

Wi-Fi covers technologies that incorporate 802.11 standards, such as 802.11g or 802.11ac network cards and wireless routers.

You can use Wi-Fi to print wirelessly over your network, connect directly to other computers in your network, and, in a pinch when you don't have Wi-Fi available, turn your phone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for your computer and other devices, using your cellular data for internet access.

Find out more about the differences between cellular wireless data and using Wi-Fi for Internet-on-the-go.

Bluetooth is another wireless technology you're probably familiar with. If your devices are close enough together and support Bluetooth, you can interconnect them to transmit data without wires. These devices might include your laptop, phone, printer, mouse, keyboard, hands-free headsets and smart devices (e.g. light bulbs and bathroom scales).

The Wireless Industry

Wireless on its own is typically used to refer to products and services from the cellular telecommunications industry. CTIA, "the Wireless Association", for example, is comprised of wireless carriers (e.g. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint), cell phones manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung and others in the mobile phone market. Different wireless (cellular) protocols and phone standards include CDMA, GSM, EV-DO, 3G, 4G, and 5G.

The term wireless internet most often refers to cellular data, though the phrase can also mean data access via satellite.