What is Wi-Fi? Everything You’ve Wanted to Know

July 8, 2019 Trends

What is Wi-Fi? Everything You’ve Wanted to KnowWhat does Wi-Fi stand for? 

Most will tell you it means wireless fidelity, but that is only partially incorrect. Long story short: Wi-Fi Alliance – the body that validates the compatibility of Wireless LAN devices – simply created a logo/trademark to show devices have been certified by the organization. The name was likely inspired by HiFi, which means high fidelity and is advertised by high-grade audio equipment. 

The fact is, Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for anything. Only after the name was trademarked did the Wi-Fi Alliance accompany the logo with a new motto: “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity”.

Can Wi-Fi cook your food?

If the FCC and other governing bodies didn’t place restrictions, then the answer would be YES! Basically, Wi-Fi operates on the same frequencies as Microwaves—yes, the same energy frequency used in microwave ovens! Since microwaves use the same frequencies as Wi-Fi, they can often interfere with Wi-Fi signals. Governing bodies like the FCC limit the maximum power of Wi-Fi signals therefore, your wireless router is not going to heat up your hot pocket any time soon.

Can you share your Wi-Fi?

Unlike common wired switched Ethernet connections, Wi-Fi is a sharable medium. That’s right…you are sharing the same bandwidth of all your devices at your house off your home router. That isn’t even the worst part—it is also half-duplex (subject to change with WiFI6/802.11ax). 

So, what does that actually mean? Simply put, only one device can communicate on a single frequency at a time. For example, if you want to transmit data on your laptop, you may need to wait for all other devices connected to your home router to stop transmitting before you can transmit data. Imagine if your whole family was trying to stream 4k Netflix at the same time. You might run into some delays depending on the size of your family.

How old is Wi-Fi?

The original Wi-Fi standard was ratified in June of 1997. That’s right: Wi-Fi is actually fairly young compared to other networking standards we are familiar with. For example, Ethernet’s origins date back to 1973 and TCP/IP became a standard for military applications in 1982. Wi-Fi turned 22 years old last month and has made significant advances over its short history. 

Basically, Wi-Fi just got its college degree and is ready to take on the world with OFDMA, WiFi6, IoT, and WPA3!

Wi-Fi is fast…sorta?

If you were asked what is the fastest thing in the Universe, likely your answer would be light. After all, what is faster than the speed of light? So, how fast is Wi-Fi? Well, in terms of the practical, like throughput and data rates, it varies depending on the standard (802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax), bandwidth (20/40/80/160MHz), and RF environment (noise, signal strength, interference). In terms of speed of the actual physical RF signal, then you are talking about the speed of light. Wi-Fi signals permeate a room just like light! That is 299,792,458m/s! 

Wi-Fi signals propagate through space just as light does, and this introduces unique effects the environment can have on a Wi-Fi signal. For example, Wi-Fi signals can be reflected by shiny metallic objects, just like light by a mirror. Also, Wi-Fi signals are refracted by a body of different density just like viewing an object from the side that is half submerged in a glass of water.


Alex ZeltmannAlex attended the Cisco Academy during his time in high school and joined the ABS team during his senior year in 2005 as an intern. Alex went on to attend Virginia Tech and graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science while still working for ABS during his school breaks. Upon graduation, Alex became a full-time employee in 2010 and has worked his way all the way up to his current role as the Infrastructure Engineer Manager.