Wireless Internet

Recently I was asked to explain internet for mobile phones.  Specifically, what service allows you to connect to the internet at anytime/anywhere.  To follow is a simplified overview of wireless internet meant for folks who are just getting into the wireless game.

Background on wireless internet:

Cell phone companies sell three major categories of service:

  • Voice (measured in minutes) for speech communication
  • Text (measured in number of texts — unlimited is not uncommon) AKA SMS (for plain text messages) or MMS (which is messages that include pictures or video)
  • Data (measure in Megabytes or Gigabytes – eg 2GB/mo meaning 2 Gigabytes per month) this is what you would most commonly consider wireless internet.  Data covers any exchange of information including surfing the web, retrieving email, using apps (applications) that use the web for exchanging information.

The iPhone and many smartphones work on both WiFi and Mobile Internet.  To be clear you should understand WiFi as wireless internet that uses a wireless router but comes from a wired connection.  Even commercially available HotSpots, like what you would find at Starbucks, have a wireless router on premises that broadcasts and receives signals from mobile devices and routes them back to a wired connection.  In your home, you would receive internet service from a provider like Comcast or Verizon through a wired connection that you would connect to a Cable Modem or DSL Modem.  To make this connection “wireless” requires a wireless router which would either be integrated into the modem or more likely as a separate piece of equipment.  The router serves two functions — both to take a single internet access point and route it to many access points as needed and to communicate wirelessly to phones, computers, and other wireless devices.

A wireless router provides a wireless access point, in other words a way a unique point to access the internet wirelessly.  Most routers require some sort of authorization in order to utilize the access point.  Often this is through a shared password or at some commercial HotSpots after approving to the provider’s terms of agreement.

Once a phone is “authorized” to access a particular WiFi access point, it will generally automatically connect to this whenever it is in range.  For example, once you have authorized your home WiFi access point, each time you come home, your phone will automatically connect to it and will use that point for data transmission.

On the other hand, when a phone is not connected to an authorized WiFi Access Point, it will use Mobile Internet i.e. the Data Plan from the Cell phone company. So, it is advisable to use data sparingly except when connected to a WiFi Access Point.  Although, for most folks it is easy to stay under 2GB (the starting data plan for AT&T).

For more details see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi

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