It's easiest to understand wireless computing if you think about something we are already quite familiar with: phones. Not long ago, anytime you wanted use a phone to make a call you had to have a phone line connecting it to the rest of the world. Cordless phones and cellular phones changed all that. With computers, you typically need wires and cables (Ethernet network cables) to connect PC's to each other and to the internet. Wireless technologies have also changed some of that.

cordless phone

cellular phone
First thing to realize is that there are two types of "wireless". If you think about the kinds of phones (cordless vs cellular) we use you'll quickly understand the differences in wireless computers.

WiFi wireless
(Wireless Local Area Network)

Cellular Wireless
(Wireless Wide Area Network)


Wireless computers, also known as 802.11B/802.11G or Wi-Fi, are very similar to the cordless phone you have in your house. With a cordless phone, you setup a base station in your house, connect it to your existing phone line, and can use your cordless phone anywhere in your house or outside in your yard. You already pay $30/month for your phone line and don't pay any extra for a cordless phone, except for the cordless phone itself. This is similar with computers -- you have a wireless antenna (Wireless Access Point, or Wireless Router) which your computers talk to. Like your cordless phone, you can use your computer anywhere in the house or yard (up to about 300 yards away). You already pay $50/month for your DSL or cable internet access, and don't pay any extra for the wireless service, except for the equipment that you buy and setup.

The second type of wireless computing, is just like your cellular phone. You pay an extra monthly service fee to your cellular phone company and you can access the internet via your computer just about anywhere your cellular phone can be used.

With cellular technology, you connect to the internet by talking to the thousands of cellular antennas that are setup all over the country. With Wi-Fi technology, you connect to a Wi-Fi base station or antenna. In addition to the wireless station in your house, you can also conenct to any other Wi-Fi antenna that you are close to. Many hotels, restaurents and coffee shops are offering free Wi-Fi access. Libraries and many other public places are beginning to offer free Wi-Fi access, too. As long as you are close enough to a Wi-Fi antenna you can connect to the internet.

Click here for some Wireless terms and definitions

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