It wasn't so long ago that "wireless technology" invoked thoughts of bricklike cellular phones. Today, the term "wireless" refers to a variety of technologies and devices, from smartphones to computers and printers to headphones and speakers, connecting with one or more methods. Current wireless phones, for example, may include 3G and 4G cellular radios, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. As these technologies advance, investing in the latest wireless equipment, such as a 4G phone or 802.11ac router, could offer you serious speed improvements.
1.Wi-FiPrimarily associated with computer networking, Wi-Fi uses the IEEE 802.11 specification to create a wireless local-area network that may be secure, such as an office network, or public, such as a coffee shop. Usually a Wi-Fi network consists of a wired connection to the Internet, leading to a wireless router that transmits and receives data from individual devices, connecting them not only to the outside world but also to each other. Wi-Fi range is generally wide enough for most homes or small offices, and for larger campuses or homes, range extenders may be placed strategically to extend the signal. Over time the Wi-Fi standard has evolved, with each new version faster than the last. Current devices usually use the 802.11n or 802.11ac versions of the spec, but backwards compatibility ensures that an older laptop can still connect to a new Wi-Fi router. However, to see the fastest speeds, both your computer and the router must use the latest 802.11 version, so when you upgrade your personal computer, consider a router upgrade to match its speed.
2.CellularMost often associated with wireless phones, a cellular network uses connected transmitters, or cells, that enable the user to move about while remaining in contact with the network. Cells transmit at low power levels so as not to interfere with each other and may be spaced far apart in rural areas or close together in cities. Cellular networks rarely offer complete coverage, and due to a number of factors, you may have experienced "dead zones" with no coverage at all. Also, when usage is extremely high in a specific area, bandwidth may be insufficient to handle all the traffic, and the system may block new calls until bandwidth becomes available. The evolution of cellular networks is enumerated by generations. The first generation was completely analog and supported the first wireless phones. The second generation, or 2G, used a number of different digital standards to support compact phones, leading to the wide adoption of wireless phones. To accommodate a growing need for data as well as voice, 3G offered further bandwidth. Today's widespread use of smartphones has spurred the wireless providers to build out 4G networks, which support high-speed data for phones such as the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III.
3.BluetoothWhile both Wi-Fi and cellular networks enable connections to anywhere in the world, Bluetooth is much more local, with the stated purpose of "replacing the cables connecting devices," according to the official Bluetooth website. That's precisely what Bluetooth does; it connects iPods to car stereos, wireless keyboards and mice to laptops or cell phones to the ubiquitous hands-free earpieces. Bluetooth uses a low-power signal with a maximum range of 50 feet, but with sufficient speed to enable transmission of high-fidelity music and streaming video. As with other wireless technologies, Bluetooth speed increases with each revision of its standard but requires up-to-date equipment at both ends to deliver the highest possible speed. Also, the latest Bluetooth revisions are capable of using maximum power only when it's required, preserving battery life.
4.WiMAXWhile over-the-air data is fast becoming the realm of cellular providers, dedicated wireless broadband systems also exist, offering fast Web surfing without connecting to cable or DSL. One well-known example of wireless broadband is WiMAX, offered by providers such as Clear or Skyriver. Although WiMAX can potentially deliver data rates of more than 30 megabits per second, providers offer average data rates of 6 Mbps and often deliver less, making the service significantly slower than hard-wired broadband. The actual data rates available to someone using WiMAX can vary widely with their distance from the transmitter. WiMAX is also known as one version of 4G wireless and has been available in phones as Sprint's 4G technology. However, the company has been building out a network using LTE, the 4G technology used by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
- Wi-Fi Alliance: Discover and Learn
- TechRadar: 802.11ac: What You Need to Know
- Northeastern University: Cellular Networks
- Engadget: 2G, 3G, 4G, and Everything in Between: an Engadget Wireless Primer
- Bluetooth: How It Works
- The Washington Post: Notes on Testing Clear's 4G WiMAX Service
- ITBusinessEdge.com: Speeding Up WiMAX
- GigaOm: Why Sprint is Pushing LTE for 100 Cities in “Coming Months”