What Is Wireless?

Wi-Fi router. Mikineator https://www.flickr.com/photos/_miki/3425273296/in/photolist-7F6bG-7DLqb-3tgTg-6dFqq9-6rk47A-64e6Y3-6rfT96-qFs9Y7-4onQL2-6rfUha-5K8EGF-5uMk8o-5K8PRc-6q8Ty3-4onQgc-krDXk-fGKB4i-pr2JL-6q4P7p-7zo68g-6copzB-q68q5Z-8r99Qw-2EDqRP-ht59g-cxXCTu-891ssh-fAmtL-qnMDD-5uGXsP-5uMjZ9-osPTvA-99GGKN-eyzbiN-5uGXmp-5uGXix-5uGXfz-gcBHh-pr3SF-gcBHQ-pr3SD-pr3SB-9KzKxC-6Dgbc2-83Zvig-7vuiGs-gcBJx-pVc1YX-3QbmZT-7vquxx

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.   

When someone says the word "wireless," they could be talking about a number of things (FCC regulated or not).

Wireless Networking and Wi-Fi

Networking technologies that connect multiple computers and devices together without wires -- i.e., in a wireless local area network or WLAN -- also fall under the wireless umbrella. Often, instead of referring to just "wireless" for these technologies, the term "​Wi-Fi" will be used (a term that 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. You can connect your devices--laptop, phone, printer, hands-free headsets, and "smart devices" (such as smart bathroom scales)--that are in close proximity to each other to transmit data and let your devices communicate without wires.

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 composed of wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, for example), cell phone manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung, and others in the mobile phone market. Different wireless (cellular) protocols and standards include CDMA, GSM, EV-DO, 3G, and 4G.

The term "wireless Internet" will most often be referring to cellular data, though the phrase can also refer to data access via satellite.

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