The BIG Technical Jargon Guide

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The Big Glossary - WiFi Technical Terms Explained

This current page covers the technical terms used in WiFi. Explore more technical terms by choosing a different topic from our menu or enter a specific query into the search box to get started. Please note that our BIG terminology guide has hundreds of entries so if you use a common word in your search, you may have to scroll through several results to find what you're looking for.

Last modified: February 2024

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What is a Wi-Fi access point?

A Wi-Fi access point is a device that allows wireless communication, such as smartphones and laptops, to connect to the internet. It acts like a bridge between the wired network and wireless devices, using radio waves to transmit data between them. Access points are commonly found in public places like airports, coffee shops and hotels, as well as in homes and offices. They can be a separate device or built into a router and are designed to make it easy for multiple users to access the internet wirelessly.

What is AirDrop?

AirDrop is a feature that allows you to wirelessly transfer files (such as photos, videos and documents) between Apple devices, like iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. It works using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology to create a temporary, secure connection between the devices and to transfer the files quickly and easily without the need for cables, email, or any other special apps.

To use AirDrop, turn it on in the settings of your device, choose the file you want to share and select the device you want to send it to. The other person will receive a notification asking if they want to accept the file. When accepted the file is transferred immediately.

What is band steering?

Band steering is a technique used in Wi-Fi networks to direct devices to connect to the most appropriate frequency band, typically the 5GHz band instead of the more congested 2.4GHz band. This is done by configuring the network to broadcast both bands with the same SSID (network name) and then encouraging or forcing compatible devices to use the 5GHz band whenever possible. Band steering is useful for improving network performance and user experience in environments where many devices are connected to the network simultaneously. However, it is important to note that not all devices support band steering, and some may still prefer to connect to the 2.4GHz band.

What is beamforming?

Beamforming is a signal processing technique that is used in some wireless transmitters to improve the quality and strength of the signal. Essentially, it allows the transmitter to focus the signal in a specific direction towards the receiver rather than broadcasting the signal in all directions. By doing this, the signal is stronger and clearer when it reaches the receiver, which can result in faster data transfer speeds, fewer dropped connections and better overall performance.

One of the main benefits of beamforming is that it improves the reliability of wireless connections. It can help to reduce interference from other devices and obstacles in the environment, such as walls or furniture. This means that you can use your wireless device further away from the router or access point or in areas where the signal might previously have been weak or inconsistent. Beamforming is commonly used in wireless routers and access points.

What is a Wi-Fi channel?

Wi-Fi channels are specific frequencies within the radio frequency spectrum that Wi-Fi networks use to transmit data between devices. In the UK, the 2.4 GHz band has 13 channels, while the 5 GHz band has up to 19 channels. Wi-Fi networks operating in the 5 GHz band are generally less congested than those in the 2.4 GHz band, which may make it a better choice for high-density environments such as apartment buildings.

What is Wi-Fi coverage?

Wi-Fi coverage refers to the range or area in which a Wi-Fi network signal can be received and used by devices. The coverage area of a Wi-Fi network is determined by various factors, such as the strength of the router's signal, the presence of physical barriers like walls or floors and interference from other wireless devices. You can use a range extender or a mesh network system to improve Wi-Fi coverage or reposition the router to a more central location for better signal distribution. Also see what is Wi-Fi roaming.

What is dBm?

dBm is a unit of measurement used to express the power level of a signal in decibels (dB) relative to one milliwatt (mW). It is commonly used in telecommunications and networking to express the strength of a wireless signal, such as the output power of a Wi-Fi transmitter or the received signal strength of a wireless device. A higher dBm value indicates a stronger signal, while a lower value indicates a weaker signal. For example, a signal with a power level of 0 dBm is equivalent to 1 milliwatt, while a signal with a power level of -100 dBm is equivalent to 0.0000000001 milliwatts, which is a very weak signal.

What is a dipole antenna?

A dipole antenna is a type of radio antenna that is made up of two conductive elements, typically metal rods or wires, that are oriented in opposite directions and connected to a radio transmitter or receiver. The two elements are usually of equal length and arranged in a straight line. It is commonly used in radio communication and broadcasting because it has a wide frequency range and can transmit and receive signals from various directions. Dipole antennas are widely used in everyday applications like home Wi-Fi networks and television broadcasting.

What are diversity antennas?

The process of using multiple antennas to reduce interference which may be caused by reflective surfaces. Diversity antennas can improve both transmission and reception signals.

What is Dual-Band WiFi?

Dual-Band Wi-Fi is common in most modern routers. It's a feature that refers to the router being able to support both the 2.5Ghz and 5Ghz frequency bands. In short if you're device supports both frequencies your router will be able to automatically select the best network, typically 5Ghz which is faster over short distances and 2.5Ghz if you are further away from your router or if the radio signals need to penetrate walls.

What is a wi-fi frequency band?

Wi-Fi frequency bands refer to specific ranges of the radio frequency spectrum that Wi-Fi networks use to transmit data between devices. The two most commonly used Wi-Fi frequency bands are the 2.4GHz and 5 GHz bands. The 2.4GHz band has been used for Wi-Fi for many years and offers good range and wall penetration but is susceptible to interference. The 5GHz band offers faster speeds and is less congested than the 2.4GHz band but has shorter range and poorer wall penetration.

What is a guest network used for?

The guest Wi-Fi feature is an option on some routers, it's fundamentally a security feature. A user connected to a guest network will have reduced permissions to communicate with other devices on your primary network, like printers, wireless speakers or shared storage (NAS Drives) or even your routers admin controls.

What is Mesh Wi-Fi?

Mesh Wi-Fi is a type of wireless network where multiple devices work together to provide a strong, seamless signal throughout a home or building. Each device, or 'mesh point,' communicates with the others to ensure that data is transmitted and received as efficiently as possible. Mesh Wi-Fi networks can help eliminate dead spots and provide reliable coverage even in large or multi-level homes. Additionally, they typically offer easy setup and management through a mobile app, making them a convenient solution for non-technical users.

The benefits of mesh Wi-Fi include:

Enhanced coverage: Mesh Wi-Fi systems are designed to provide comprehensive and reliable coverage throughout the entire area, even in hard-to-reach corners and rooms.

Improved speed: With multiple access points working together, mesh Wi-Fi systems can provide faster internet speeds and reduce buffering or lagging.

Seamless connectivity: Mesh Wi-Fi networks seamlessly hand off devices from one node to another, allowing for uninterrupted connectivity as you move throughout your home or business.

Easy setup: Most mesh Wi-Fi systems are designed with user-friendly mobile apps that make setup and configuration a breeze, even for non-technical users.

Scalability: Mesh Wi-Fi systems are highly scalable, allowing you to add more 'mesh points' as needed to expand coverage or enhance performance.

What is MU-MIMO?

MU-MIMO stands for 'Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output.' It's a technology used in modern routers and Wi-Fi networks that enables multiple devices to simultaneously communicate with the router. This is achieved by using multiple antennas to create multiple communication streams, allowing the router to communicate with several devices at once instead of one device at a time. If you're streaming media to multiple devices and playing online games, make sure your Wi-Fi router supports the MU-MIMO technology.

What is NFC?

Near Field Technology (NFC) is a short-range wireless communication technology that enables two devices to exchange data over a distance of a few centimetres. NFC uses magnetic field induction to communicate between devices. It is a type of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. It is commonly used for contactless payments, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay and bank card payments. NFC is supported by many modern smartphones and other devices.

What is an omni directional aerial?

An omni directional aerial is a type of antenna that is designed to receive or transmit radio waves in all directions around it. It's called "omni-directional" because it can pick up signals from any direction, unlike directional antennas that are designed to pick up signals from a specific direction. Omni-directional aerials are commonly used in applications where the source of the signal is not known or could come from any direction, such as in a walkie-talkie radio or mobile phone transmitter. They are often used in urban or suburban areas where there are multiple signal sources and obstacles that could block or reflect signals.

What is a parabolic antenna?

A parabolic antenna is a directional antenna with a shallow reflector bowl at the rear. This type of antenna is sometimes referred to as a 'dish' or 'parabolic dish'. The reflective bowl focuses the radio signals into one focal point. They are commonly used for applications like satellite television (Sky TV), microwave broadband links and astronomy.

What is an SSID?

SSID stands for 'Service Set Identifier.' It is a name given to a wireless network to identify it from other nearby wireless networks. When you search for Wi-Fi networks on your device, you will see a list of available SSIDs that you can connect to. It is like a label on a bottle that helps you identify which product it is. The SSID is broadcasted by the wireless router or access point and is used by devices to identify and connect to the correct network. The SSID name is usually on the bottom or rear of your router, by default, it may contain the name of your internet service provider or the brand name of your router.

What is VoWiFi?

VoWiFi is short for Voice over WiFi, which is a technology that allows you to make phone calls over a WiFi network rather than using a traditional 4G 5G mobile network. The main benefit of VoWiFi is that it can provide better call quality and coverage in areas where cellular signal strength is inadequate. Most UK mobile phone providers allow you to make calls over WiFi. However, this will still use your call allowance.

What is Wi-Fi roaming?

Roaming is a terminology more commonly known for using your mobile phone in different countries. WiFi roaming is a similar principle to mobile roaming and occurs when your wireless device moves out of range from a Wi-Fi transmitter and transfers to another one simultaneously. An example of this would be keeping a seamless Wi-Fi connection when visiting a large department store.

What is Wi-Fi security type (WEP) (WPA) (WPA2) (WPA3)?

Wi-Fi security types are different ways to protect your wireless network from unauthorised access. When you set up a Wi-Fi network, you can choose from different security types such as WEP, WPA, WPA2, or WPA3. These security types are like locks on a door - they help to keep your Wi-Fi network secure and prevent unauthorised access. WEP is an older and less secure security type that can be easily hacked, while WPA and WPA2 are more secure and use better encryption methods to protect your data. WPA3 is the latest and most secure Wi-Fi security type that provides even stronger encryption and better protection against common attacks. By choosing a secure Wi-Fi security type, you can help to keep your wireless network and data safe from hackers and other unauthorised users.

What does WLAN mean?

Your home Wi-Fi is a form of WLAN. WLAN is basically a wireless network. It stands for 'Wireless Local Area Network'. A WLAN is a device that can connect multiple devices to allow wireless communication.

What is a Yagi aerial?

A Yagi aerial is a directional aerial which is capable of producing very high gain when pointing directly at the transmitting mast. They are commonly used as outdoor TV aerials.

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