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Wireless Computer Card - Everything you need to know about wireless cards

wifi standard connection range

Why is WiFi called “802.11?” What’s with all the letters?

This is a number issued by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. IEEE standards are used in a lot of computing devices. For example, IEEE 1394 is the standard for Firewire and IEEE 1284 was used for old printer ports.

IEEE 802 covers networking with the .11 standard covering wireless networks. As these standards are revised a letter is added to the end. The first standard, 802.11a, didn’t catch on but remains in use for special applications. The first popular version of WiFi was 802.11b, followed by 802.11g and recently 802.11n. While n was finalized in late 2009, companies were manufacturing products years before its release based on earlier drafts of the standard.

The main difference between the standards is speed: In the real world 802.11b can transfer data at 11 Mbps, g at 54 Mbps, and n at 100 Mbps. 802.11 b and g wireless computer cards have an indoor range of around 100 feet and an outdoor range of 400 feet while n has a range of 200 feet indoors or 800 feet outdoors.

These three 802.11 standards are compatible with each other, transferring at the fastest speed they are both capable of. In other words, if an 802.11 b wireless computer card and an 802.11 n wireless computer card connect to each other they will transfer at b speeds.

I already have a network card in my computer. Do I have to remove it to install a newer network card?

No. Unlike video cards you can have multiple network devices in your computer. When configuring your network device make sure you are connecting with your new card instead of your old one. Your WiFi card is identified by the chip that handles the connection, not the actual brand and model of the card. The chip may or may not be visible on the surface of the card you are installing. To avoid confusion, look at your computer’s settings before installing the new card and write down the model name shown your old hardware.

What can I do to improve the range of my wireless devices?

Standard distances are quoted for both open areas and indoors, but these are both averages. WiFi signals decrease in strength if they have to pass through walls. Relocating your computer or your router may be enough to get a connection.

If you need to bridge a connection over a long distance, get a repeater. This device extends the range of the WiFi signal by copying and resending data.

Wireless computer cards typically have an external antenna which can be unscrewed and replaced. There are many high-power antennas on the market while there are numerous plans on the Internet for build-your-own antennas. One of the most popular is the “cantenna,” a device that uses a can as the signal reflector. This makes the signal very directional, focusing the antenna signals in one area extending its distance but also limiting connections to where the antenna is pointed.

Can electronics interfere with WiFi signals?

Yes, but it’s rare. 802.11 b, g, and n broadcasts at a frequency of 2.4Ghz. Some cordless phones and baby monitors also use this frequency and can cause interference. Bluetooth also uses 2.4Ghz, but the frequency of these devices changes hundreds of times per second, making interference non-existant. Old microwaves emit strong electromagnetic pulses in this frequency range, but WiFi has been designed to send data in between these pulses. 802.11 n is slightly more likely to experience interference because it uses more frequency channels, increasing the chance it will have some overlap with another device.

802.11a broadcasts at 5Ghz, eliminating most of these issues. The standard is mostly used in wireless computer card that absolutely must be interference free, although some new cordless phones might interfere with these devices.

Can I create a WiFi connection between two computers?

Yes. This is done the same was you would with an Ethernet connection, except there’s no crossover cable. Both cards need to be set in “Ad-Hoc” mode instead of “Infrastructure” mode, the mode used for connecting to the Internet. They will also need to use the same SSID (service set identifier) number, which can be set manually. Once connected, data sharing works like any other network connection.

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