Today we are used to being able to access the Internet wherever we go. Our smartphones can access the Internet; Starbucks provides wireless “hotspots” for our laptops or iPads. These wireless technologies have made Internet access more convenient and have made devices such as tablets and laptops much more functional. Let’s examine a few of these wireless technologies.
Wi-Fi is a technology that takes an Internet signal and converts it into radio waves. These radio waves can be picked up within a radius of approximately 65 feet by devices with a wireless adapter. Several Wi-Fi specifications have been developed over the years, starting with 802.11b (1999), followed by the 802.11g specification in 2003 and 802.11n in 2009. Each new specification improved the speed and range of Wi-Fi, allowing for more uses. One of the primary places where Wi-Fi is being used is in the home. Home users are purchasing Wi-Fi routers, connecting them to their broadband connections, and then connecting multiple devices via Wi-Fi.
As the cellphone has evolved into the smartphone, the desire for Internet access on these devices has led to data networks being included as part of the mobile phone network. While Internet connections were technically available earlier, it was really with the release of the 3G networks in 2001 (2002 in the US) that smartphones and other cellular devices could access data from the Internet. This new capability drove the market for new and more powerful smartphones, such as the iPhone, introduced in 2007. In 2011, wireless carriers began offering 4G data speeds, giving the cellular networks the same speeds that customers were used to getting via their home connection.
Sidebar: Why Doesn’t My Cellphone Work When I Travel Abroad?
As mobile phone technologies have evolved, providers in different countries have chosen different communication standards for their mobile phone networks. In the US, both of the two competing standards exist: GSM (used by AT&T and T-Mobile) and CDMA (used by the other major carriers). Each standard has its pros and cons, but the bottom line is that phones using one standard cannot easily switch to the other. In the US, this is not a big deal because mobile networks exist to support both standards. But when you travel to other countries, you will find that most of them use GSM networks, with the one big exception being Japan, which has standardized on CDMA. It is possible for a mobile phone using one type of network to switch to the other type of network by switching out the SIM card, which controls your access to the mobile network. However, this will not work in all cases. If you are traveling abroad, it is always best to consult with your mobile provider to determine the best way to access a mobile network.
While Bluetooth is not generally used to connect a device to the Internet, it is an important wireless technology that has enabled many functionalities that are used every day. When created in 1994 by Ericsson, it was intended to replace wired connections between devices. Today, it is the standard method for connecting nearby devices wirelessly. Bluetooth has a range of approximately 300 feet and consumes very little power, making it an excellent choice for a variety of purposes. Some applications of Bluetooth include: connecting a printer to a personal computer, connecting a mobile phone and headset, connecting a wireless keyboard and mouse to a computer, and connecting a remote for a presentation made on a personal computer.
A growing class of data being transferred over the Internet is voice data. A protocol called voice over IP, or VoIP, enables sounds to be converted to a digital format for transmission over the Internet and then re-created at the other end. By using many existing technologies and software, voice communication over the Internet is now available to anyone with a browser (think Skype, Google Hangouts). Beyond this, many companies are now offering VoIP-based telephone service for business and home use.