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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

Wi-Fi on the fly

When you hear wireless revolution do you think about cell telephones? Does the term Wi-Fi make you wonder about some new twist in stereo music? If someone boasts about their unplugged office or home computer network, do you wonder how those computers run without electricity?

If so, this only-the-basics primer in wireless computing may be just the thing.

Q. What is it?

A. Wireless is a way of connecting to the Internet without using cables or wires plugged into a modem. Wi-Fi, which means wireless fidelity, is the most popular kind of wireless technology. Wi-Fi is also called 802.11 technology.

Q. How does it work?

A. Wi-Fi uses radio waves to broadcast an Internet connection over short distances. Anyone with a receiver/transmitter in their computer can tune into the Internet connection, use e-mail, surf the web, and do Instant Messaging.

Q. Why would people want to do that?

A. Wireless has become especially popular among people with mobile-equipped laptops, who want to use the Internet when no wired connection is available. It gives them high-speed Internet access in airports, coffee shops, hotels, and other places where there are Wi-Fi hot spots.

Q. Hot what?

A. Hot spots are places where someone usually a company that charges a fee is broadcasting a Wi-Fi connection.

Q. What else is Wi-Fi good for?

A. Wi-Fi is wonderful for unplugged home and office networks, which share an Internet connection, printers, and other gear. In the past, people had to run cables through walls and ceilings to every computer connected to the network. Wi-Fi makes it easier. Just install a Wi-Fi gateway or router.

Q. Huh?

A. Wireless gateways and routers are electronic devices that plug into your broadband connection. They allow computers equipped with a Wi-Fi adapter to access the Internet and other Wi-Fi equipped computers and devices on the local network.

Q. Wi-Fi adapters?

A. Newer mobile-equipped laptop computers already have an adaptor, which often is built right into the computer. Adapters and software also are available for older laptops and desktop computers. The software signals when it detects a Wi-Fi network, so you can connect.

Q. How much does this cost?

A. Wireless networking kits are available in local retail stores and online. They usually include a router and a PC card (for a laptop) or a wireless networking card (for a desktop computer) and may cost around $100. Wireless PC cards and other gear for laptops and desktops also can be purchased separately.

Q. Where are the nearest Wi-Fi hot spots?

A. Check searchable databases of domestic and international Wi-Fi hot spots, such as www.wifinder.com, www.wi-fihotspotlist.com, and http://pcworld.jiwire.com.

Q. Where can I get more information?

A. The Internet is brimming with information, including details on setting up wireless networks. Search for Wi-Fi or wireless computing.

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