What’s Up with Wi-Fi?

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Do you often ask - WFT's going on with my WiFi?

By Carl Weiss

Whether you are worried about the security consequences of using public Wi-Fi, or are tired of having to put up with Wi-Fi dead zones in your home or business, today’s blog is designed to take the WTF out of Wi-Fi.  I will endeavor to cover everything from what the latest in Wi-Fi, to how to bulletproof your Wi-Fi security, to troubleshooting Wi-Fi problems, as well as provide timely tips that will make your Wi-Fi use, safe and hassle free.

Watch out - Here comes Li-Fi

Li-Fi will be the latest and the greatest wireless local area network to hit the street,
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businesses and homes. But wait, it's not a radio transmitted signal, it’s transmitted by light (i.e. Li-Fi). OK so it’s not really Wi-Fi but it is the next big thing. This new type of wireless connection will be extremely fast. It will be capable of transmitting data up to 100 times faster than current Wi-Fi connections. However, there will be some real limitations. For one, light does not travel through walls. This does enhanced security, but puts a big dampener on reach and scope. Either way Li-Fi has great potential. It is still in its infant stages and we will not be seeing it in our homes and offices for some time to come. To find out more, check out the March 1st, 2016 notes section of this blog that is associated with the story.  Having said that, let’s look at where Wi-Fi came from and what arguably is the best wireless connection available today.

Wi-Fi’s Cosmic Connection

Before there were wireless networks, there were radio-telescopes.  Back in the early 90’s Australian radio-astronomer Dr. John O’Sullivan, along with colleagues, Dr. Terrence Percival, Graham Daniels, John Deane and Diet Ostry were searching the heavens for mini black holes.  While they were unsuccessful at realizing that goal, what they accomplished was far more down to earth, since their research resulted in the issuance of several key patents that gave birth to what would later become known as Wi-Fi.  Granted, early wireless speeds were hardly lightning like, since they provided up to 2 Mbit/s link speeds in 1997. This was increased to 11 Mbit/s in 1999 which proved to be both popular and profitable. 

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So were the patents issued to the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), the Australian organization that sponsored the scientist’s research.  In a quote from Wikipedia:

“In April 2009, 14 technology companies agreed to pay CSIRO $250 million for infringements on CSIRO patents. [10] This led to Australians labeling Wi-Fi as an Australian invention,
though this has been the subject of some controversy. CSIRO won a further $220 million settlement for Wi-Fi patent-infringements in 2012 with global firms in the United States required to pay the CSIRO licensing rights estimated to be worth an additional $1 billion in royalties”.

What’s in a Name?

The brand name Wi-Fi was coined by the consulting firm Interbrand in 1999.  Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance who presided over the selection of the name "Wi-Fi", also stated that Interbrand invented Wi-Fi as a play on words with hi-fi, and also created the Wi-Fi logo.  It was also felt that the name “Wi-Fi” was a little catchier than the technical term “802.11b Direct Sequence.”

While an umbrella term used to designate any wireless local area network (WLAN), there are actually several subspecies of Wi-Fi:
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  1. Local – which is any home or business that uses a wireless router to provide short range internet access known as a hotspot.
  2. City-Wide – As early as 2001, a number of major metropolitan areas created city-wide Wi-Fi networks for their citizens.
  3. Campus-Wide – Like cities, many college campuses broadcast Wi-Fi to students and faculty alike.
  4. Mi-Fi – Many smartphones have the ability to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. This is especially useful if there is limited or no Wi-Fi access at a given location. Mi-Fi devices are also sold separately.
  5. Bluetooth – which is used to connect devices wirelessly.


While it doesn’t matter where you receive your wireless network connection from an access point of view, the problem with many public Wi-Fi networks is that they are relatively insecure.  Many wireless networks are Open, meaning that they are unencrypted.  This makes it child’s play for others to watch your traffic even if they aren’t connected to the network.  Even if you have a secure connection to such networks, don’t be fooled.  At the very least, the sites you visit, can be identified and recorded since the Domain Name Server lookups your computer does automatically are not encrypted.  In the worst case scenario, you should always assume that any network that you don’t have admin control over, has the ability to show someone who does, everything you are doing and seeing in real time.

Finders Keepers

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With this in mind, any time you use any public Wi-Fi connection, beware of entering any personal or financial information.  When it comes to making a cybercriminals day, passwords, credit card numbers or bank account routing numbers are a commodity that can be quickly bought, sold, or used to make your money theirs.  Should thieves gain access to your bank account due to your carelessness, don’t go crying to your banker. He or she will inform you that they are NOT required to issue you a refund.  It’s the same policy that your auto insurer would use were you to leave your car running with the keys in it.  As far as they are concerned, it’s a case of finder’s keepers. Many banks sent their account holders a waiver that once signed, released them from any liability for losses incurred through the disclosure of online passwords.  If you aren’t sure if your bank has done this, you need to have a conversation with them, sooner rather than later.

As for beefing up your security to prevent eavesdropping, consider adding Https address to everywhere your browser takes you.  It works with Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers to encrypt your communications.  While it isn’t 100% bulletproof, it is better than nothing, which is what you have now.  Check out: https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere.  The other option is to avoid using public networks altogether.  The solution for this dilemma is to use your cellphone as a hotspot.  (Otherwise known as Mi-Fi.) Also don’t forget to avoid using public Wi-Fi hot spots on your smartphone! These devices usually don’t have any protection.

Wi-Fi WTFs

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When it comes to Wi-Fi there are a number of frustrations that many people have come to know and hate.  Most of these issues boil down to connectivity snafus.  As good as it is, wireless connections will never be as good as wired ones.  We’re talking radio here.  Everything from the distance to the router to obstructions and even other nearby networks can interfere with wireless signals.  While most users simply grit their teeth and endure these hassles, there are solutions to some Wi-Fi WTFs.
  
1. Slow Router or No Router – Most routers broadcast at 2.5GHz.  Unfortunately, so do other appliances, including garage door openers, baby monitors, cordless phones, microwave ovens and other electronic devices.  If you have recently noticed that your connection speed has slowed or stopped, the first thing you need to think about is whether you have added any new electronic devices lately.  By turning off the offending device, you may reestablish your connection.

If that doesn’t work, you can always add a Wi-Fi booster or repeater to your system.  One solution is to add the Linksys WGA600N to your existing router.  This device will allow your router to choose from one of 23 channels that broadcast at 5GHz.  It’s the router equivalent of switching stations. Some newer routers also come with this option build in.
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Another solution is to purchase one or more of the devices called Eero.  These devices are what Radiohead’s call repeaters.  Instead of relying on one router to broadcast to your home or office, what Eero does is create an array of mini routers that together fill your space with signal sufficient to provide consistent coverage.  Bear in mind that Eero isn’t cheap.  Each unit retails for $200.

Solution number three is to simply upgrade your existing router.   Particularly if you are into online gaming and are frustrated by slow speed, D-Link makes a DGL-4500 router that is souped-up for gaming.

2. Locked Out – I’ve forgotten my password and can’t login!  Is that’s what’s bothering you?  Don’t panic, because most routers have a reset button built in.  Check the back of the router.  Either a button or a small hole will be there.  (If it’s a hole, poke a paper clip into it.) Hold the reset down for 5 seconds and you should be able to access the network. Hopefully you saved the router’s manual so you can look up the default username and password.  If not, try admin/admin or admin/password. Then make sure you reset them so you won’t get hacked. If this doesn’t work, you can look up the manual with your smartphone on the internet.

3. Your router is an energy vampire – If power consumption is a problem, do what I do… Turn the router OFF when not in use.  Problem solved.  I have my entire entertainment system, including the router plugged into an APC surge protector.  All I have to do when I go to bed is hit one button and no more energy vampire.  I’m all out of wooden stakes.

Are You Blue?

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 The other kind of wireless networking is Bluetooth, which was basically developed by the mobile phone industry.  Like Wi-Fi, it enables devices to connect to other devices wirelessly.  Unlike Wi-Fi, Bluetooth uses a much weaker signal, since it is designed to communicate over distances of 30 feet or less.  It also has much more limited bandwidth than Wi-Fi, which is why it’s great for connecting peripherals like headsets, wireless keyboards and mice, but not so good at transmitting large files.

If you have problems connecting a device using Bluetooth, it is usually because the feature is disabled on your device.  The cure for this is to find the control panel on your computer or phone, that turns Bluetooth on and off.  Sometimes you need to add a device as well to get the job done.  Below are a couple of links you might find useful if the problem persists.

  1. Windows Devices: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Troubleshoot-problems-with-Bluetooth-enabled-devices
  2. iPhone: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3409382?start=0&tstart=0
  3. Mac http://www.radtech.com/support/bluetooth/mactroubleshootingguide


While they call it a wired world, as we all know today’s on-the-go computing environment requires us in many instances to cut the cord.  By understanding the nature and limitations of wireless networking, you will be better able to understand and deal with what’s up with Wi-Fi.

In this article on Wi-Fi, I have covered everything from the history of Wi-Fi, to how to avoid Wi-Fi hot spot scams, how to bulletproof your own Wi-Fi security, troubleshooting tips to solve common Wi-Fi problems, plus timely ways that will make your Wi-Fi use, safe and hassle free.

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If you found this article useful please share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you would like to learn more about this subject, visit the notes page on this blog for the BlogTalkRadio show dated 3/1/16. I recommend checking out "The endless Scams of Christmas (and Beyond)“, “It’s Time for Some Hi-Tech Spring Cleaning”,  and “The Hack Attack is Back”. You can also search for other related articles by typing in “Wi-Fi”, “Scams” or “Hacking” in the search box at the top of this blog.

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Carl Weiss is president of WorkingtheWebtoWin.com a digital marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida that routinely works with bloggers and other online marketers to grow their businesses. 

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2 comments:

  1. Wi-Fi has come a very long way since its inception. From what I read here, it looks like the future of WLAN is bright and more faster and usefulness is still to come.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was very informative. You can't be too careful when it comes to cyber-security.

    ReplyDelete