A Wi-Fi device a piece of wireless networking hardware designed to comply with the IEEE 802.11 standard and used to create a wireless local area network (WLAN).
Wi-Fi, or WiFi, is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance: a non-profit trade organization that exists to promote WiFi technology. The Wi-Fi Alliance provides a product certification program for products that demonstrate conformance to IEEE 802.11 and certain interoperability standards established by the Alliance.
WiFi is the technology that enables most private and public wireless Internet connections. The term has become commonplace to the point that in typical usage it is synonymous with Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and is used to refer to any wireless Internet connection, whether or not the equipment that powers the connection bears Wi-Fi Alliance certification.
While WiFi networks are prevalent, they are sometimes less secure than a wired connection, because a potential intruder doesn't need to be physically connected to the network.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to connect to a public WiFi network?
Many businesses, such as Starbucks, McDonalds, and Dunkin Donuts, offer free WiFi access for customers – a reflection of the growing trend for remote workers to spend at least part of their day working from such establishments. However, once you're connected to the same wireless network as someone else, it is not difficult for that other user to snoop on your activity if they know what they are doing. For this reason, it is highly advisable to wait until you are connected to a private network before visiting any sites that will display or require you to enter sensitive data.
There are things you can do to stay as safe as possible on a public WiFi network. First, turn off sharing (also called discovery on some systems) in your network settings. Second, enable the firewall built into your computer's operating system. Third, never enter sensitive information such as account names and passwords unless you are on a website that is using HTTPS. Fourth, for the best possible security, sign up for one of the many Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to give you private network security even on a public network.
Where does the term Wi-Fi come from?
It's pure branding nonsense. When the Wi-Fi Alliance was just getting started (and obviously before they were called the Wi-Fi Alliance) they hired a brand consulting firm to help come up with a catchy name. Wi-Fi, a play on the term hi-fi, was selected, and “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity” was selected as an advertising slogan. In essence, the term Wi-Fi is basically meaningless and was selected to coopt the sense of premium engineered-product quality implied by the term high fidelity.
As it turns out, the brand consultant knew a thing or two about branding. WiFi has become the term that everyone uses to refer to wireless networking as opposed to more technically correct terms such as WLAN.
What is a Wi-Fi compliant device?
A Wi-Fi device complies with the IEEE 802.11 standard – a set of specifications that describe a specific method of implementing a WLAN. The standard was originally released in 1997. To say that a device is a Wi-Fi device in the technical sense is the same as saying that it complies with IEEE 802.11. However, wireless networking equipment manufacturers didn't think IEEE 802.11 was a term that was going to catch fire, and the term Wi-Fi was selected to be used instead.