WiFi – Wireless Access Point.

WiFi is a method of connecting to another computer by using radio signals, instead of a physical Ethernet cable.

Wireless Access Point (WAP)

A WAP is a device that allows you to connect to a computer network using radio signals instead of a physical Ethernet cable. They used to be separate stand-alone devices but these days are usually built-in to the Internet Gateway Router supplied by your ISP (Internet Service Provider).

To use Wifi, you need :-

  1. A device that is “Wireless Enabled” (basically a circuit board called a WNIC ).
  2. A “Wireless enabled” device to connect to, this is usually a “Wireless Access Point” (WAP) sometimes called a WiFi Router.

To connect to the WAP, you will need :-

  1. To know the SSID / wireless network name of the WAP.
  2. The WiFi password.

Once connected, you (your device) will be part of a computer network.

If you have a simple home set up with maybe one desktop PC or laptop or a tablet or two and your phone. you would just use the WAP that is built-in to the “Internet Gateway Router” supplied by your ISP.

If you are connecting to your home network (and ultimately the Internet), your ISP (Sky, Virgin, BT etc) will have provided you with an “Internet Gateway Router” which has a built-in WAP (and 2 or 4 port switch, for Ethernet).

The SSID / wireless network name of the WAP along with the password is often set by the ISP but can be changed. e.g. you might want to call it “meatball” (or anything you want) instead of Sky******* and you might want to use a different password.

Sometimes you might want to use a “stand-alone” WAP to cure WiFi blackspots and other reasons. These come in a few flavours but generally you would connect this to your switch using an Ethernet cable and then you would give your WAP an SSID or WiFi network name e.g. pasta or anything you like really 🙂

If you are out and about, visiting maybe a pub, just ask the bar staff for the WiFi details.

Note WAPs in pubs and in some other public places are often called “WiFi Hotspots” and in many cases they are not secured so you don’t need a password. In this case, from a security point of view, I suggest you use your mobile phone data instead of WiFi.

A bit of history :-

Years ago the only way to connect 2 or more computers (to create a network) was by using Ethernet cables and a “hub” or “Switch*”. Have a look at Lets Network for more info on networks.

Switches are now used more than hubs but both are electronic devices that allow Ethernet cables (from your network devices) to be inserted into the “ports” of the device and this creates a “junction box”. The result is that all devices connected to the switch can communicate together and they are all on the same Local Area Network (LAN).

When laptops started coming in the the market place, you still had to use an Ethernet cable to connect the laptop to the network and this was a bit of a gotcha because the laptop was designed as a portable computer (device) but you were restricted by the length of the Ethernet cable!

The first portable computer was released in 1975

The first truly portable computer was released in 1981

The concept of WiFi has been around since the 1970s or earlier. Being able to connect computers together using “Radio Signals” (wireless) instead of a physical Ethernet cable was awesome. WiFi has seen many improvements over the years and these days it is a lot more reliable but “Radio Signals” can often be subject to interference from other “Electrical signals”. The use of WiFi has freed us up, we now use WiFi on our phones, Tablets, laptops and even weighing scales (not joking – check out Withings) to connect to our home network and the Internet, with no Ethernet cables in sight 🙂

Apple introduced the first WiFi enabled laptop in 1998

Security note (yes I’m paranoid Pete) 🙂

The router supplied by your ISP will enable you to connect several devices using a combination of Ethernet and WiFi. The router will also have some sort of Firewall and it uses something called NAT which allows all your connected devices to use an “Internal non routable IP address”, instead of the “public” External IP address, see the glossary for info about IP addresses.

For most people using only the ISP router should keep you and your devices fairly safe when connected to the Internet / WWW but it is a little restrictive because all the devices on this LAN can be accessed by any device connecting to this LAN (if you have enabled file sharing) and you only have the one firewall, which should ideally only be seen as “border protection”.

I would suggest that you obtain a separate stand-alone combined router, switch, firewall and WAP to create you own home LAN. This would enable you to more safely share info between your devices and share printer etc. The WAP on the ISPs router would then only be used for “guests” who need Internet access but would not have access to your home LAN and devices. Have a look at the bottom of the page of Lets Network to see a diagram of a home network (LAN) with a “Guest LAN”. Basically you would have 2 LANs, one for “home” and one for Guests, each of the LANs would be on different networks and the “home LAN” would be protected by 2 firewalls which adds to your layered defence.