The tangle of wires behind
every computer is one of the most exasperating things most people
find with computing. In order to deal with this, a whole breed of
devices without wires have been developed. Unfortunately the dream
of the wireless computer is as remote as that of the paperless office.
A frustrating part of
working in IT is the amount of jargon we use. To make it worse, we
often start using the same terms for different technology which only
confuses people more.
The term “wireless” is
a good example. This simple word manages to confuse not only consumers,
but many tech support and salespeople.
To clarify what’s what, here are the basic differences;
Wireless Internet is a way
of connecting to the Internet by using the mobile phone network or other
wire free technologies. These work over large areas and are designed
so large areas have Internet access without needing a telephone or cable
There’s a whole range
of wireless Internet providers, ranging from the big telcos like Bigpond,
Optus and Vodafone through larger companies providing services in
major metropolitan areas to local businesses covering regional towns.
The common factor with
wireless Internet services is they require a modem to plug into your
computer. The built in wireless functions standard in most laptops
won’t connect to these systems.
It should be kept in mind
that wireless Internet has similar limitations to the mobile phone
network. Some areas get rotten reception while different carriers
perform better than others in certain locations. We recommend you
the alternatives before entering into a wireless Internet contract.
All the wireless Internet
systems have built in security that makes it almost impossible to
eavesdrop. This is where the main confusion is between the two types
of wireless arises. Wireless networking has well deserved reputation
for not being secure.
The bad reputation wireless
networks have for being insecure and somewhat unreliable is well deserved.
But wireless networks can be an effective way of sharing files, printers
and Internet connections in your home or office. The security problems
are due to many systems not
having basic security set up because most people don't understand
how to do it.
To link to a wireless
network, a computer uses a wireless Network
Interface Card. Most laptops come with these included. If the
network has security enabled, as we recommend, then you’ll need to
type in the security code (known as WEP or WPA passkey) before you'll
be allowed on the network.
You’ll find wireless networks
in coffee shops, airport lounges and hotels as well as homes and offices.
Many of these networks are set up for you to connect to the Internet,
often at a price. Wireless networks only work in a small area around
where the local network is installed.
Just to confuse matters,
there's are other wireless technologies available. The most common
for computer users is RF (Radio Frequency) equipment that communicate
through a small radio transmitter. These are the most popular type
of wireless mice and keyboards.
The older infra red system
has largely vanished. You might still find the odd PDA,
mobile phone or laptop that uses it but it's rare to find them in
The replacement for Infrared
is Bluetooth. This is now a very common way for connecting with mobile
phones, keyboards, mice, speakers, headphones and printers. It should
be noted that printers marked as "wireless" usually mean they have
built in wireless networking, not Bluetooth or the other wireless
The wire free computer
is still a long way off, even if you use a laptop connected to a wireless
network or with a wireless Internet connection, you'll still have
to plug the thing into the power sometimes. In the meantime, we'll
have to struggle with a myriad of different wireless technologies.
In general, we think it's best to accept the fact a few wires behind
your computer are inevitable rather than chasing the impossible dream.