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How does WiFi work, exactly?

By Eric Fleischauer
DAILY Business Writer

eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

WiFi, short for wireless fidelity, is all the rage, but how does it work?

Much the same as a walkie-talkie. Walkie-talkies convert sound into radio waves to transmit, then convert them back to sound to receive.

The problem is that walkie-talkies communicate at 49 megahertz, which means they can carry only a small amount of data, about 1,000 bits per second at best. WiFi transmits at up to 5 gigahertz, and higher frequency means more data, up to 54 megabits per second. That's fast enough for streaming video or other data-intensive applications.

Unlike most walkie-talkies, WiFi nodes can also switch frequencies automatically, reducing interference from other transmissions.

A WiFi node converts digital data — 1s and 0s — into radio waves, rather than converting voice. Digital data converts much more efficiently than a walkie-talkie, so the effective data stream is even higher.

Source: Wi-Fi Alliance, www.wi-fi.org.

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