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WiFi Hardware

Cable Modem

A cable modem

The modem (modulator-demodulator) is the point of entry for data into your house or business from the Internet Service Provider. It modulates your data to the format used on cable or telephone lines and demodulates the data signal from the ISP to the format used by your equipment. Since the service providers usually have multiple services on their system, the modem also filters out the unwanted signals. The modem is provided by the ISP who have them configured for the type of signal on their system.

A client is a piece of equipment that is the end user of the data. It can be a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Sometimes printers are connected directly to the network as clients so multiple clients can share a single unit.

Wireless Router

Routers distribute the Internet connection to the various clients. The connection at this point uses a protocol known as Ethernet. On the back of the router is a jack labelled WAN (Wide Area Network) that connects to your modem with an Ethernet cable. There will also be jacks labelled LAN (Local Area Network). Use these to connect devices close to the router with Ethernet cables to save your WiFi resources for devices that really need it.


Wireless Access Point

Outdoor wireless access point

Access Points and Hot Spots
Access points generate the actual wireless radio link that connects your devices to the network. Many routers have Access Points built in. A Hot Spot is virtually the same as an Access Point. It usually refers to a system at a commercial establishment, such as a mall or coffee shop, that provides Internet access for its customers on the premises.

USB WiFi Adapter
If for some reason your client device doesn’t have built-in WiFi or it has failed you can use an external WiFi adapter that plugs into a USB port. Another reason would be to get WiFi capability with higher output power or a more advanced wireless standard than the built-in one. Many also have a connector that will allow use of an external high-gain antenna to greatly extend WiFi range.


Screen dish antenna

Screen dish antenna.
Photo: Jim Jaworski

External Antenna
Modern electronics is always striving for more miniaturization. This is in direct conflict with the physical properties of radio antennae. Use of a large external antenna can give the most dramatic increases in WiFi range. This is the same principle that allows radio telescopes to detect the feeble signals from space probes operating in the outer regions of the solar system as well as distant stars and galaxies.

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