What Is Wireless Computer Networking?

Everything You Need to Know About Wireless Networking Technologies

Image of four people against a wall communicating with each other on their phones
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Wireless communication technology is a modern alternative to traditional wired networking. Where wired networks rely on cables to connect digital devices together, wireless networks rely on wireless technologies.

Wireless technologies are widely used in both home and business computer networks, for a variety of uses.

While there are definitely lots of benefits to wireless technologies, there are also some disadvantages to be aware of.

Types of Wireless Network Technologies

A large number of technologies have been developed to support wireless networking in different scenarios.

Mainstream wireless technologies include:

Other technologies still under development but likely to play a role in wireless networks of the future, include 5G cellular internet and Li-Fi visible light communication.

Pros and Cons of Using Wireless Over Wired

Wireless computer networks offer several distinct advantages compared to wired networks but are not without a downside.

The primary and most obvious, advantage of using wireless technology is the huge mobility it offers (portability and freedom of movement). Not only does wireless let you use devices untethered to a wall, they also eliminate unsightly cables that inevitably have to be dealt with in wired networks.

Disadvantages of wireless include additional security concerns. No longer are your devices only reachable manually with physical access, they can be penetrated by hackers rooms or sometimes even buildings away from the wireless access point. Another downside to using wireless technologies is the increased potential for radio interference due to weather, other wireless devices, or obstructions like walls.

In fact, there are several other factors to consider when comparing wired and wireless networks, like cost, performance, and reliability.

Wireless Internet Service

Traditional forms of internet service rely on telephone lines, cable television lines, and fiber optic cables. While the underlying core of the internet remains wired, several alternative forms of internet technology utilize wireless to connect homes and businesses.

There are, for example, wireless internet services like public Wi-Fi networks for wireless access when you're not at home, fixed wireless broadband for wireless at-home internet access, satellite internet, and others.

Other Applications of Wireless

The result of the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) is that we're seeing wireless being integrated into an increasing number of places where it wasn't used before. 

Apart from home networking, watches, refrigerators, vehicles, and many other devices - sometimes even clothing - are gradually being fitted with wireless communication capabilities. Because of the nature of wireless technology, all of these devices can be paired together for seamless integration with each other.

For example, your phone can trigger your smart thermostat to adjust the temperature of your home when you leave, your smart lights can turn on when you get home, and your smart scale can keep tabs on your weight loss progress.

Wireless Network Hardware

To build a wireless network requires certain types of computer hardwarePortable devices like phones and tablets feature built-in wireless radios. Wireless broadband routers power many home networks. Other kinds of equipment include external adapters and range extenders.

Wireless network equipment can be complex to develop. Consumers recognize popular brand names of wireless routers and related home network gear, but many do not realize how many internal components they contain and how many different vendors produce them.

How Wireless Works

Wireless technologies employ radio waves and/or microwaves to maintain wireless communication channels between computers. While many technical details behind wireless protocols like Wi-Fi often aren't important to understand, knowing the basics about Wi-Fi can be very helpful when configuring a network and troubleshooting problems.

The wireless tech we know today had its origins in scientific research going back several decades. Nikola Tesla pioneered wireless electric lighting and power transmission, for example - areas that continue to be an active area of study today for such usages as wireless charging.