Wi-Fi. It’s a an ever-present term you hear about and see all day long.
Images like this one appear on every entrance way of practically every store, shopping center, restaurant, cafe, airport, the salon and library. I do mean everywhere! While you may understand what it does for you, what is Wi-Fi for and how did it become the prevalent wireless connection option?
The Roots of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is a shortened version of the term Wireless Fidelity. The term was developed to describe an alliance of tech manufacturers to create a wireless connectivity standard for all of their products especially in regards to networking. It is a label intended to specify those wireless local area network (WLAN) products that adhere to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 wireless standards.
What is Wi-Fi for (in plain English)?
Since practically all WLAN products follow these standards, the term has become Wi-Fi is just a catchier way of saying WLAN like High Defintion (HD) for videos and flat screen TVs or Hi-fi (High Fidelity) with high quality audio playing devices.
“Wi-Fi” is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance. Only Wi-Fi products that successfully complete interoperability certification testing may claim the designation of “Wi-Fi CERTIFIED.” Basically, if something in devices are Wi-Fi approved they are supposed to be able to work together.
HowStuffWorks has an excellent breakdown of how Wi-Fi technically works, which is a topic for another day.
The importance of the Wi-Fi alliance should not go understated. Imagine if Internet devices could only connect to certain kind of routers and every computer and tech brand created their own router. It would mean that for your device to connect wirelessly to the Internet you would need a different router for each device. What a nightmare!
Standards divisiveness (see Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, VHS vs Beta-Max) was rampant in the early parts of the tech boom. Thankfully, it has subsided and allayed the frustrations of the average tech user who just wants their stuff to work.
Remember when every flip phone charger was different. Now it’s practically down to two standards: the iPhone cord and then the mini-USB standard adopted by just about everyone else. What a scam it was to make people buy different car and portable chargers for each new phone and device only for them not to work when your get your next phone.
The State of Wi-Fi
Currently, Wireless-N or 802.11n is the most popular high-end release of the wireless standard. Almost any device released in the past few years utilizes Wireless-N for its internet connectivity.
If you are running on an older router and are continually having to reboot it to get connected or you see your wireless connectivity at 54 Mbps or below (the max speed of Wireless-G routers, the outdated standard prior to Wireless-N), it is probably time to upgrade to a new router.
Wireless-N routers usually start at around of 300 mbps (or about 5x as fast as the best Wireless-G routers) like the Linksys Cisco E1000, a very capable, popular and basic Wireless-N router.
Higher end devices like the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 can reach 1900mbps using super speed dual-band connectivity which creates multiple, simultaneous signals on different wireless signal bands. Using an open source firmware on a router like DD-WRT can maximize the abilities of Wi-Fi, offering you the ability to boost your antenna signal for increased range and signal strength. You can view these options by visiting the Wireless Settings tab on the DD-WRT demo and clicking the Advanced settings check-box.
The ability to create a free Wi-Fi hotspot of your own is also embedded in the DD-WRT control panel using a variety of options and services such as NOCATSPLASH, Wi-Fi Dog, and Worldspot. See a demo of the DD-WRT Hostpot options.
The Failure of WPS
One of the more recent add-ons to home Wi-Fi usage from the alliance was the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup). A process that was created to make setting up a wireless network as easy a press of a button. The problem with overly simplistic setups is often security flaws due to the simplicity.
Read more about the of WPS router flaw and a list of susceptible routers.
For some routers, it can be difficult, even impossible to turn off this WPS feature inside the manufacturer’s firmware. If you fear the WPS vulnerabilities, one option is ditching the easy-to-crack routers and upgrading to DD-WRT. You can check if you have a DD-WRT capable model here but please make sure to match the model number before flashing and follow the instructions specific to your model. Note: We can not be held responsible if a user tries to secure their network and ends up bricking their router, which happens frequently.
An even safer solution is to buy a router with DD-WRT firmware Installed . Popular DD-WRT models include the latest high-end router model, the Netgear R7000. All have the high-end specifications that users desire plus additional network safety and security options of DD-WRT built-in to prevent network hacking and the onslaught of brute-force attacks.
For a complete list of DD-WRT router types, read our Best DD-WRT Routers of 2016 post for our up-to-date list of the most popular DD-WRT routers.