WiFi Glossary
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WiFi Glossary

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In the world of WiFi there are many terms and acronyms used that most users have difficulty defining. In an effort to effectively disseminate the information that all computer users should be equipped with, below are listed some terms and their definitions.



  • 802.11x Standards

    • 802.11a
      This alternative to 802.11b operates in the 5GHz range and offers speeds of up to 54Mbps.

    • 802.11b
      The most popular and pervasive version of WiFi, this standard operates in the 2.4GHz range and offers speeds of up to 11Mbps.

    • 802.11g
      Released in 2003, 802.11G uses 2.4GHz and can attain speeds up to 54Mbps.

    • 802.11n
      802.11n offers both increased range and bandwidth, some proposals work at up to 600Mbps. It can also operate at 2.4GHz or 5GHz.

    • 802.11ac
      Operates at 5GHz at speeds up to 6933Mbps.

    • 802.11ax
      Operates at 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz at speds up to 9508Mbps.

    • 802.11be
      Operates at 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz at speds up to 460Gbps.


  • Access Point (AP)

    • The computer or network device that serves as an interface between wireless- equipped computers and the rest of the network. Using an Access Point as the network backbone, each computer connects first to the AP, then another computer. Many AP's sold today also have a wired Ethernet hub or switch built-in, making them a router, not just an AP.
  • Ad Hoc (Mode)

    • Used to describe a Peer-to-Peer network, as opposed to a Peer-to-AP (Infrastructure) Network. This mode allows spontaneous generation of a wireless network, connecting each computer directly to another, rather than an Access Point.


  • Bandwidth

    • The term used to describe the amount of information that can be transmitted over a given connection. Usually given in bits-per-second or megabits-per-second. Also occasionally given in bytes or megabytes-per-second. Differentiating the two is very simple: bits-per-second is abbreviated as bps, whereas bytes-per-second is shown as Bps (first letter is uppercase). The two terms are not interchangeable, though many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would have consumers think otherwise.

      File sizes on your hard drive are displayed to you as kilobytes or megabytes, but ISPs choose to display their connection speeds in kilobits (kbps) or megabits (mbps). To translate an advertised connection speed to something closer to what you will actually be downloading at, divide the advertised speed by 8 (there are 8 bits in a 1 byte).
  • Bridge

    • A device used to connect one network or device type to another, for instance wireless to wired.


  • Channel

    • A Channel is a specific frequency range, usually only one MHz wide and separated from other channels by as few as five MHz, that a WiFi adapter has access to at any given time. The Channel spread and frequencies are as follow:



  • DHCP

    • DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Essentially the DHCP protocol allows dynamic IP address configuration, meaning the user does not have to define an IP address, DNS, Gateway, etc.
  • DNS

    • DNS stands for Domain Name Service. The DNS translates the plain-English URLs that everyone is used to typing in, like www.datapro.net, into the numerical IP address for the server that the website resides on.
  • DSL

    • DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It is a type of internet connection available to both Residential and Commercial users. It runs over regular phone lines, and you can use the same line for DSL and voice communication at the same time. DSL does come with some distance limitations, though. The maximum distance for ADSL (Asymetric DSL)is 18,000 feet. There is a new type of DSL in the process of being deployed that doubles the distance limitation, however it is not available at this time.


  • Encryption

    • A method for hiding information such that only the sender and the intended recipient can read it.

    • ESSID stands for Extended Service Set Identifier. It is a way to identify a WiFi network by name. Also called SSID and BSSID.
  • Ethernet

    • The most pervasive connection type for wired networking. Available in speeds from 10mbps all the way up yo 10,000mbps (10gbit). The most common wire used for Ethernet networking is Cat5 (Category 5) and the connectors used are RJ45, slightly larger than the RJ11 connectors used by phones, but the same shape.


  • Firewall

    • A Firewall is a method whereby a computer, or an entire network of computers, is protected by a software or hardware configuration that monitors and analyzes the incoming and outgoing traffic. Most home users place a firewall between their modem and their computer, thereby protecting themselves from most would-be intruders.
  • Firmware

    • Firmware is the software embedded into hardware that allows your computer to communicate and properly use the features of said hardware. Many products, especially routers and WiFi adapters, allow you to download new firmware from the manufacturer's website and update the product's capabilities.


  • Gateway

    • Where WiFi is concerned, the terms Gateway and Router are usually interchangeable. See Router for more information.


  • Hotspot

    • Hotspots are designated locations where WiFi access is available. Most hotspots are provided as a pay service, but free hotspots are available if you look for them.
  • Hub

    • A Hub is a device used to connect several computers to one network source. Unlike a router, each computer connected to a hub needs a unique IP address, making sharing an internet connection at home slightly more complicated with a hub.


  • IEEE

    • The IEEE, or Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is an organization that researches and institutes electrical standards for communication and other technologies.
  • Infrastructure (Mode)

    • A network layout designed around a central hub, or Access Point, where every connected computer connects first to the Access Point, then to the network at large. See also Ad Hoc.
  • IP Address

    • An IP address is a unique numerical identifier that tells your computer where other computers are located on the network, and vise versa. IP address appear in the form of xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx, though each grouping can be as short as a single digit.
  • ISP

    • An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, is a company that handles the interface between a user and the Internet. ISPs lease phone and cables lines from the large telecoms and regulate the traffic transmitted on them, routing the signals to the appropriate parts of the network.


  • LAN

    • A LAN, or Local Area Network, is a group of computers that are connected to each other in some localized way, like an Ethernet connection of a wireless network (Infrastructure or Ad Hoc).


  • MAC Address

    • A MAC (Media Access Control) Address is a unique, hardware-based identifier used to differentiate between connected users. While MAC addresses are initially hardware based, they can be changed. This is called "Spoofing," and has several real-world uses, though most people associate spoofing addresses of any kind with hacking.


  • NAT

    • Network Address Translation is an algorithm that allows multiple local computers to share one external IP address. Routers use NAT to accomplish this very thing. Also, many firewalls use NAT as a basis for security.
  • NIC

    • A Network Interface Card is the piece of hardware used to connect a computer to a network.


  • Packet

    • A Packet is a series of bits transmitted or received by a computer. Internet traffic is routed and controlled in packet-form.
  • PCI

    • PCI, or Peripheral Component Interconnect, is a type of connection inside modern computers. The PCI slot supplanted ISA as the defacto connection for add-in cards in desktops. PCI is currently in the process of being phased out to make room for PCI-Express, a much higher bandwidth connection.
  • PCMCIA or PC Card

    • PCMCIA stands for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. It is the slide-in peripheral connector on most notebooks.
  • Print Server

    • A print server allows a standard printer to be shared across a network.
  • Proxy

    • A proxy is a software interaction layer that prevents direct communication between a sending computer and a receiving one. In this way it is a little like a firewall, but it is more oriented towards packet monitoring and less towards security.


  • Repeater

    • A Repeater is a device used to extend the range of a WiFi Signal. Placed at the edge of signal reception, a repeater simply receives and re-transmits the signal.
  • Router

    • A router accepts multiple internal connections, wired and wireless, and allows them to use the same external IP address, thus lowering the cost of sharing internet access by not requiring the purchase of more IPs.


  • USB

    • USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is arguably the easiest way to add WiFi capability to a computer. USB WiFi Adapters are available at almost every computer store and are incredibly easy to set up. The downside of a USB WiFi adapter is they tend to not have very hi-gain antennae. They are, however, more mobile than other adapters, so you can change the elevation to get a better signal far more easily than with a PCI adapter.


  • VoIP

    • Voice over IP is a relatively new technology that allows one to place voice telephone calls over the internet. There are several major companies that now offer VoIP services, though one of the major sticking points has been a lack of a 911-like service.
  • VPN

    • Virtual Private Networks are one way of remotely connecting to a computer, for instance from a hotel room to your desktop computer at home, using a secure pathway, or "Tunnel," across the internet.


  • WAN

    • A Wide Area Network is an established network that encompasses computers in more than one unique geographical area.
  • WAP

    • WAP is an acronym used in two ways:
      • Wireless Applications Protocol. A service provided for mobile devices with internet access. Mobile devices have smaller screens than what most websites were designed for. As a result, many websites now provide a version of their website that is tailored to mobile devices (like wap.ebay.com).
      • Wireless Access Point. A computer or similar hardware component that allows wireless connectivity. Most WAPs are used to add WiFi ability to an already established wired network.
  • War Chalking

    • War Chalking is the practice of walking through an area with a laptop that is equipped with a WiFi NIC and marking on the ground where WiFi access is available. There is an established set of symbols to use that let one know what kind of access is available, how fast it is, and whether or not it is secured.
  • War Driving

    • War Driving is the practice of driving through an area with a laptop equipped with a WiFi NIC and making note of where WiFi contact is made. War driving is not strictly illegal, in fact most who take part in it do it for fun. However, accessing a network that one does not have permission to access is illegal.
  • WEP

    • Wired Equivalent Privacy is a set of encryption algorithms designed to protect data transmitted wirelessly. WEP actually has several gaping vulnerabilities that make it fairly easy to crack, though it still takes time.
  • WiMax

    • WiMax is an Intel-backed wireless standard that has far greater bandwidth and range capability than any of the standards in the 802.11x family. The IEEE designation is 802.16, and it has a range of 31 miles with bandwidth capabilities up to 70Mbps. Large-scale WiMax deployment has not happened just yet, but it is in the works.
  • WPA

    • WPA, or WiFi Protected Access, is a much improved form of encryption for wireless data. It lacks the vulnerabilities that WEP had, while at the same time easing installation and use of WiFi networks. WPA2 is the follow-up product, though it is only recently making it's way into products.
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