Wireless jargon / glossary
Wireless networking, like so many things in life -- and especially the ones
that have anything to do with computers -- is filled with jargon. Hi-tech babble
baffles many. Don't be intimidated, though: here's a quick computer-speak to
English guide to help you out.
802.11. The name of the wireless networking standard, set by the IEEE.
Ensures that wireless devices are interoperable.
Driver. A piece of computer software that tells the computer how to talk to
devices that are plugged into it. For wireless networking, the drivers you need
to install will come on a CD with any equipment you buy.
Ethernet. The most common way of connecting to a LAN. Any wires you might
have connecting your computers together now are Ethernet wires, and the cable
connecting your modem to your computer is probably an Ethernet wire too.
Ghz. Gigahertz. A measurement of frequency -- one gigahertz is one billion
cycles per second. You may recognise the measurement from computer processor
speeds, which are now also measured in Ghz.
IEEE. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In charge of the
wireless networking standard, as well as many other computer-related standards
(including the Ethernet standard). They ensure that computer equipment made by
different manufacturers can work together.
Interoperable. Means that two pieces of equipment are compatible -- you can
use them together, because they stick to the standards. You should not get any
wireless equipment that isn't interoperable.
LAN. Local Area Network. A network that is generally confined to one
building, such as a home or office. A wireless LAN is also known as a WLAN.
Linux. An alternative operating system to Windows. Computers running Linux
can run many programs and connect to the Internet without needing Windows. Linux
is free to download and you are allowed to give it to friends to use. A lot of
wireless devices run Linux, or are compatible with it.
MAN. Metropolitan Area Network. A network that covers a larger area, for
example a town or city. Wireless MANs (men?) spread Internet access all over the
area, but are expensive to set up. They are sometimes used on university
Mbps. Megabits per second, a measurement of connection speed. Not to be
confused with MBps, megabytes per second. There are eight megabits in a
PAN. Personal Area Network. These are networks made up of devices connected
together in one small area. For example, your computer with a USB keyboard and
mouse connected is a PAN. PANs can be wireless, using a technology called
PCI. Peripheral Component Interconnect. This is a way of installing new
devices inside your computer, such as graphics cards and network devices. If you
want to install a wireless card inside your computer, you will be using PCI.
PCMCIA. Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (some say it
should stand for 'People Can't Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms'). A standard
for plugging credit card-sized devices into a laptop, to give it extra
capabilities. PCMCIA is a great way of adding wireless networking to your laptop
as easily as inserting a disk.
USB. Universal Serial Bus. A port used for connecting all sorts of devices to
a computer, including keyboards, mice, printers, external drives, and almost
anything else you can think of. If you don't want to open up your computer and
you don't have a laptop, you can get a USB wireless device.
WAN. Wide Area Network. A network that is connected over more than one
physical site, such as a business that has its computers in two countries
connected on one network. The Internet, for example, is a WAN -- the biggest WAN
in the world.
WEP. Wired Equivalent Privacy. The old standard for encrypting wireless
networks. Unfortunately, it was found to be insecure back in 2001, and so should
no longer be used.
WPA. Wi-Fi Protected Access. Basically an upgrade of WEP to fix its security
problems. WPA-encrypted networks change their encryption method often, to avoid
becoming vulnerable, and also shut down for thirty seconds if they detect a
Written by Jason Keno of