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What is Wi-Fi and why is it so important?

Most people are aware of the wireless icon symbol on a computer or smartphone that indicates a successful wireless LAN connection, but fewer understand the origins of the technology that has been dubbed as Wi-Fi.

Interestingly, the term Wi-Fi originally did not represent the technology itself, but rather was a branding term devised to promote and support interoperability between different wireless LAN systems. Wi-Fi was never a shortened version of wireless fidelity; it was  just a pun on the word hi-fi (high fidelity), an homage to high-quality audio technology.

The term Wi-Fi was created by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, which later became the Wi-Fi Alliance. In April 2000, the group announced the first set of Wi-Fi Certified products, starting with IEEE 802.11b products. Now more than 20 years later, there are more than 15 billion Wi-Fi products in use around the world, according to the alliance.

At the time, the products included access points and personal computer network adapter cards, which were used to wirelessly connect computers to broadband internet options. Before wireless, network connections on a LAN or over the broader Internet were done through either wired Ethernet connections or people via modem connections over their telephone line.

As the technology progressed, and networking vendors began producing wireless products, the Wi-Fi certification program and its logo would tell consumers that one product would interoperate with another. As the technology grew beyond 802.11b and became more ubiquitous on millions of different devices, the term Wi-Fi became more about the general wireless LAN technology and less about the interoperability certification.

What is Wi-Fi?

In a general sense, Wi-Fi refers to the wireless LAN technologies that utilize the IEEE 802.11 standards for communications. Wi-Fi products use radio waves to transmit data from a client device to either an access point, which includes a router, and the router completes a connection to other devices on the LAN, WAN or the internet.

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