Trivia Tuesday: The many waves of Wi-Fi

Many people use Wi-Fi every day to connect wirelessly to the internet through their home or work routers; I know I do, not only for some of my PCs, but also for my smartphone and other portable devices. It’s a critical and integral part of connected life, but just how much do you know about Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a brand name owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance that is used for the IEEE 802.11 wireless standard, and so often you will see both “Wi-FI” and “802.11x” used to mean the same thing. The x in 802.11x refers to the type of protocol, with generally a letter further along in the alphabet indicating faster wireless throughput. At the time of writing 802.11ac is the newest with a maximum single-link throughput of 500 Mb/s.

The invention of Wi-Fi is attributed to Australian organization CSIRO as their patented technology forms a critical part of the 802.11 standard; however several other technologies from other institutions and companies form the current Wi-Fi protocols. Many major tech companies infringed on CSIRO’s Wi-Fi patents and so they managed to scrape at least $250 million from settlements.

The original Wi-FI protocol, simply named 802.11, was released in 1997 with routers supporting it being few and far between. Faster adoption of Wi-Fi occurred when the 802.11a and 802.11b protocols were released in 1999, which quickly made standard 802.11 obsolete. While you will still find references and support for 802.11b nowadays, good luck finding original 802.11 support.

The ying-yang Wi-Fi logo conveys interoperability

Something you might not have thought of is that Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity in the same way that Hi-Fi refers to high fidelity audio equipment. Originally the Wi-FI alliance used the term “wireless fidelity” in its press releases but has since dropped the use, most likely because the term “Wi-Fi” is easier to say and far more catchy.

Security for wireless networks was originally a problem for Wi-Fi as the popular WEP security protocol proved rather easy to crack: so easy that it is possible to recover a WEP key in just a few seconds. WPA and WPA2 are much more secure as long as they are not accompanied by the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature found on most routers. It was recently found that WPS has a serious issue that allows hackers to brute force the WPA passkey.

As always we remind readers that using unprotected Wi-Fi, WEP security, MAC address filtering and/or a hidden SSID is not sufficient security for your home network. Use WPA2-PSK/AES for maximum security.

Some people who are, let’s say, not tech enthusiasts may believe that exposure to Wi-Fi will cause serious damage to your body via radiation. It has been found through countless studies that this is not the case whatsoever, is a complete myth and even the World Health Organization says there is no risk to exposure to Wi-Fi networks.

The final piece of information in this week’s Trivia Tuesday is that Wi-Fi can easily be jammed using commercial devices. Signal jammers that block Wi-Fi (amongst other wireless protocols) cost upwards of US$100 and are illegal to use, and often own as well, in most countries. We do not advise buying one or you might find a nasty customs notice in your letterbox.

Read all the past Trivia Tuesdays

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