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A wireless network is a network that uses radio signals rather than direct cable connections to exchange information. A computer with a wireless network connection is like a cell phone. Just as you don’t have to be connected to a phone line to use a cell phone, you don’t have to be connected to a network cable to use a wireless networked computer.

The following paragraphs summarize some of the key concepts and terms that you need to understand in order to set up and use a basic wireless network:

  • A wireless network is often referred to as a WLAN, for wireless local area network. Some people prefer to switch the acronym around to local area wireless network, or LAWN. The term Wi-Fi is often used to describe wireless networks, although it technically refers to just one form of wireless networks: the 802.11b standard.

  • A wireless network has a name, known as a SSID. SSID stands for service set identifier — wouldn’t that make a great Jeopardy! question? Each of the computers that belong to a single wireless network must have the same SSID.

  • Wireless networks can transmit over any of several channels. In order for computers to talk to each other, they must be configured to transmit on the same channel.

  • The simplest type of wireless network consists of two or more computers with wireless network adapters. This type of network is called an ad-hoc mode network.

  • A more complex type of network is an infrastructure mode network. All this really means is that a group of wireless computers can be connected not only to each other, but also to an existing cabled network via a device called a wireless access point, or WAP.

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