How Does Wi-Fi Really Work? Complete Beginner’s Guide

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Wi-Fi is the method by which millions of people connect their devices to the internet every day, whether we’re talking about an internet-capable fridge or whether we mean the average smartphone instead. It’s what connects the world, and you’ll find Wi-Fi networks all around you – in schools, in coffee shops and in businesses and campuses all over the world. It’s all around us, and it’s constantly seeing data transferred through the air; and yes, it’s entirely safe – and you probably have some Wi-Fi waves passing through your body right now.

Even though most of the people reading this will be regular users of Wi-Fi networks, it’s true that most people using it don’t know just how it works. That’s probably because you don’t need to know just how Wi-Fi works in order to use it – but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn just how it works.

 Here’s everything that you need to know about Wi-Fi, how it works and travels as well as more about the things that can potentially affect Wi-Fi signal.

How Does Wi-Fi Work

How Wi-Fi Works

Even though most people are making use of their Wi-Fi connection (or sometimes someone else’s!) every day, we might not have a clue how Wi-Fi works – and that’s just because it requires very technical knowledge to set up a network in the first place.

All it takes to set up your Wi-Fi is making it through one or two online tutorials and you’ll be set; any troubleshooting questions after that can be typed into Google. You don’t need to know anything about WPA, the Wi-Fi Alliance or radio waves to make use of it – but there are many reasons why you might want to know. It’s fascinating, for one!

Wi-Fi isn’t complicated – and it’s not dangerous as many conspiracy theories on the internet might claim.

In fact, your average Wi-Fi signal is simply internet signal that’s conducted through using radio waves; the same regular radio waves that would have powered your grandparent’s AM/FM radio, but just a little stronger. Wi-Fi traditionally exists between 2.4 and 5 Gigahertz; this is to ensure that the Wi-Fi signal is able to penetrate things like walls in order to connect devices to the internet.

Things You Didn’t Know About Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is short for Wireless Fidelity. Bet you didn’t know that! If you think just that is an interesting fact, there’s a lot more to how Wi-Fi got its name – taking inspiration from the music industry, the name was taken from the term high fidelity, which refers to high-quality audio instead. They called it this instead because both the company and the end-users found that the original name for Wi-Fi wasn’t particularly catchy or easy to remember.

The beginning of Wi-Fi offers up a lot more interesting facts that you might not have known about. Apart from where Wi-Fi got its name, most people don’t know that there’s something called the Wi-Fi Alliance – a company under which the trademark name and logo are registered. They’re responsible for checking Wi-Fi capable devices to ensure they fit the bill when it comes to manufacturing regulations and safe signals – and they’re the company which provides certification (and official “Wi-Fi Certified” notices) on most of the Wi-Fi capable products (like routers) you’ll find.

The Wi-Fi Alliance represents Wi-Fi as a whole, and many of the world’s leading technology companies are a part of the Alliance to ensure they’re providing the best possible Wi-Fi devices and products. This list of companies includes Apple, Microsoft, Motorola and more, and their website invites more tech companies in the Wi-Fi space to submit what they’ve got.

Wi-Fi Diagram


We’ve already mentioned that Wi-Fi signal exists between 2.4 and 5 Gigahertz – but did you know that this exists somewhere between the same waves that power the radio and your microwave?

This gives Wi-Fi signal the ability to “move around” in ways that can go right through walls – although you’ll sometimes find that there are some things which can affect how well your Wi-Fi signal works; we’ll tell you some more about that later!

Wi-Fi signal travels in a specific way, usually out and then downwards, which allows it to travel even further.

What is WPA?

 Because of the fact that Wi-Fi is constantly travelling all around us, you should see the importance of just why a Wi-Fi connection should be as safe as possibly. Luckily there are many proper safeguards in place, including what’s called WPA, that help to keep your Wi-Fi connection safe and away from prying eyes.

WPA is short for Wi-Fi Protected Access, and it comes in several different forms – WPA, WPA2 and WPA3. If you’ve ever taken a look at the settings for your router, you should have seen this term before; for your smart device, you can usually find this under Connectivity Settings, too.

What this means for your Wi-Fi connection is whether or not your Wi-Fi signal is safe. Always ensure that you’ve selected the right option to ensure that your Wi-Fi is completely secure.

There are many other things you can do to keep your Wi-Fi connection safe, and most of them are common sense. Don’t access personal and private information like your banking profiles from an open, public Wi-Fi hotspot like a library or coffee shop – and don’t log into a Wi-Fi connection that doesn’t belong to you, even if you think that you can guess the password.

Never choose easy passwords for your own Wi-Fi connection that anyone can guess, and ensure that your (and only your) devices are paired with your Wi-Fi router: If you see more devices connected to your router under its settings than you have around the house, then it’s likely that someone has been “piggybacking” off your connection.

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Weird Things Affecting Wi-Fi

If you’ve ever used Wi-Fi, one of the first things that you’ll notice is the fact that the traditional Wi-Fi signal is sometimes stronger in one place than another – and you might even spot that certain places in your house offer you considerably better connectivity than if you were to go sit in another room.

There are plenty of things that can affect how Wi-Fi signals travel.

The first thing that people should be doing if they experience any slowing down of their Wi-Fi signal (or no signal in certain parts of their house at all) is to physically move their router to another place, or to adjust the antenna to see if this makes any difference to improving the connection.

If this doesn’t help, many people have found success just by adding a range extender to their current Wi-Fi connection. This can ensure that your Wi-Fi signal is as good as it should be even when further away from the router. If you’re really desperate and need a quick, temporary fix, you can extend the signal of your Wi-Fi with a makeshift dish made from foil and attached to your router’s antenna – yes, it might look like you’re trying to contact someone from Mars, but it’ll work fine if you don’t have anything else.

Other things can also affect your Wi-Fi signal: Things like mirrors, walls and furniture can “bounce” the Wi-Fi signal around – which means that your connection might be terrible no matter what. Signal extenders are usually enough to fix the problem if this is the case.

Research has shown that insulation can also sometimes interfere with your Wi-Fi signal. If you’re trying to access it on another floor and the signal keeps dropping (or is nonexistant to begin with), you should consider the idea that it could be your house that’s the problem. You don’t have to rip up all the insulation in your house to fix it, though; again, a signal extender is usually enough to make this issue a thing of the past.

The other thing that can be affecting your Wi-Fi signal that you might not have thought of before is your microwave: Because they work with very closely related wavelengths, people usually have issues connecting to their Wi-Fi while their microwave is going. Again, you can move your router – or just wait for the popcorn to be done before logging onto Netflix through your Wi-Fi connection instead.

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Is Wi-Fi Safe?

The most simple answer is yes.

The idea that Wi-Fi is somehow dangerous is rooted in ancient misinformation that comes from way back when people were still terrified of the invention of the microwave – and it was all because of the simple fact that people had no idea how microwaves really worked. (After all, if you can cook food in it, it must be dangerous at the same time, right? Wrong, as it turns out, and the fear about Wi-Fi is much of the same argument rooted in misunderstanding and misinformation.)

While the signal that helps your Wi-Fi connection to transmit from one place to another is based in radio waves, it’s not based in radiation – no radiation is transferred when you switch on your radio, your microwave or your Wi-Fi connection, and neither of the three are harmful for humans or animals.

Editor-in-Chief of Parameter and founder of Kooc Media, A UK-Based Online Media Company. Believer in Open-Source Software, Blockchain Technology & a Free and Fair Internet for all.

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