Back in the day, if you wanted Internet access, you needed an Ethernet connection; you were tethered to a cable. Then came wireless Internet or Wi-Fi. It’s also called WLAN or Wireless LAN, which is Wireless Local Area Network. The technical term for it is 802.11, which is the set of standards for wireless in the 2.4-5 GHz frequency bands.
We’ve gone from 802.11a to b to g, then to n and more recently to the newly developed 802.11ac speeds. You will soon be seeing equipment with that standard on it.
Just when you think you’ve got the latest technology, something better and faster comes along.
As opposed to connecting your smartphone via a 3G or 4G cell tower, Wi-Fi connects to a computer via an access point, or a router. It’s usually the less expensive connection option with your laptop, tablet or cellphone. If you have access to Wi-Fi, choose it over 3G or 4G to save your data and money.
Wi-Fi is now much more widespread than it used to be. It’s not just free at coffee houses, airports and hotels anymore, either. Whole offices are wireless. Some municipalities are offering free Wi-Fi in their downtown areas or parks.
Santa Clara, Calif., has about 19 square miles of public Wi-Fi for its residents and San Jose’s covers 1.5 miles of its downtown area. San Francisco is working on its version with Google.
Amherst, Mass., has free service in its downtown area as does El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colo., and some others.
But currently, there are many more European and Asian cities with free municipal Wi-Fi than in the United states, although we are working on it.
Bologna and Milan in Italy offers free hot spots around the city and Dublin, Ireland, offers the same. Bangkok, Thailand, has free wireless service, as does Taipei, Taiwan, Guadalajara, Mexico, and Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, at select places.
In Paris, the parks and libraries have free Wi-Fi. In Zrenjanin, Serbia, it’s free in the city center, and in Vatra Dornei, Romania, 85 percent of the city is covered with free Wi-Fi.
The list goes on: Heraklion, Greece; Geneva, Switzerland; Luxembourg; Bangalore, India; Montreal and Toronto, Canada; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not only is Wi-Fi free in these places and dozens more like them, but they have faster access speeds than we do here.
The new 802.11ac standard will make it easier for more cities to accomplish this task in the near future.
With the proliferation of Wi-Fi and number of devices that use it ever increasing, there is a demand for increased performance. The best 802.11n devices top out at 450 megabits per second at close range, with declining performance as the range increases.
In contrast, the new 802.11ac standard can achieve more than three times that performance with speeds up to 1.35 gigabits per second. The new 802.11ac standard has the capability to maintain a higher level of performance at any range.
There will be eight times more channels than with previous standards and we can expect less interference from devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones, baby monitors, Bluetooth gadgets or metal studded walls.
We may be about to catch up with the rest of the world as far as wireless Internet access is concerned. Not only are U.S. subscribers cutting the cord to their land line phones, but to their wired Internet service as well.
Web connections on the now ubiquitous smartphones, laptops, tablets, televisions and gaming devices make the demand for greater access and faster speeds. 802.11ac should provide for that.
According to consumer surveys by Leichtman Research Group Inc., hundreds of thousands of Americans canceled their home Internet service last year, relying instead on wireless access.
Those people are taking advantage of the growing abundance of Wi-Fi hot spots around the country with their portable wireless devices. The new standard will allow even more users access to the fast new wireless networks as access rates improve.
So be prepared to get a new router soon if you do a lot of streaming with your wireless devices.
Next time you find yourself at a public park or downtown, who knows — you may be able to watch a movie, or at least freely check your Facebook or email accounts.
I know I’ll be watching more Netflix on my tablet than NBC on my television. I will finally be able to listen to Pandora more freely.
Not being a 3G or 4G subscriber on my cellphone, the proliferation of faster free wireless will be music to my ears — literally.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.