Updated: October 20, 2014
Obtaining and connecting to wireless Internet can be confusing since there are so many different types of connectivity options and applications available. Keeping up with the latest options and trends will help you to choose the solution that is best for your needs.
If you are looking to obtain a wireless Internet connection and are unsure of where to begin, it is best to start with a general understanding of the options that are available and how they work. From there, you can determine what you need according to what you are looking to accomplish and the purposes for which you will use a wireless connection.
In general, you can begin by researching wireless Internet services to get an overview of what they offer in terms of wireless access. Many of the providers deliver wireless connectivity using a variety of different technologies, applications, and services. Find out what is available in your area and then read the contracts and learn more about what is offered.
In this article, we will provide you with the general knowledge you need to get started with obtaining and connecting to wireless Internet.
Different Types of Wireless Internet and How It Works
Wireless Internet connectivity works very similar to radio technology via a signal that is transmitted using airwaves. When you listen to the radio, a signal is transmitted to the nearest antenna which allows you to receive and listen to radio stations.
Internet Service Providers that provide high speed Internet connections construct a series of towers in a specified coverage area that are capable of transmitting radio signals. Each tower provides a network that allows nearby devices enabled with Wi-Fi capability to pick up the signal. Often the towers are placed close together to eliminate dead space and connectivity interruptions while you are traveling.
The Wi-Fi technology built into your device detects the tower signal which allows you to access wireless Internet. This type of technology has evolved over four generations and is commonly referred to as 3G or 4G connectivity. It is typically provided by cellular carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, and provides wireless connectivity to mobile devices including tablet PCs and smartphones that are enabled with Wi-Fi capability.
3G and 4G Wireless
3G and 4G is often considered to be a faster connection than Wi-Fi (wireless). This allows you to easily browse the web, engage in video conferencing, stream videos and music, and perform other computing tasks with your mobile device on the go. 4G which stands for fourth generation wireless connectivity is the newest technology. The main difference between 3G and 4G is in the infrastructure.
3G consists of a series of networks that are connected together to cover a specific service area. Each tower acts as its own hotspot with a specific coverage area. The challenge Internet Service Providers face with 3G connectivity is in providing seamless coverage.
The towers are often expensive to construct and maintain which reduces the number of towers that can be implemented in a specific service area. The end result is dropped connections due to the dead spaces that exist between towers.
Fortunately, many of the cellular carriers and providers of 3G wireless connectivity provide connections for roaming hotspots that are maintained and shared by more than one wireless provider. This improves the coverage, reduces costs, and prevents dropped connections that result from dead space. Plus, it reduces the additional roaming charges you typically used to see on your monthly bill.
4G is capable of creating one large network that acts a single hotspot for coverage in a specific area. Instead of multiple towers acting as a series of hotspots with dead space in between each one, Internet Service Providers can use 4G technology that converts a large geographic area into a single hotspot.
3G wireless connectivity is still the most widely used technology in most areas. However Internet Service Providers are gradually implementing 4G wireless connectivity in more areas.
Because of the difference in the infrastructure, 4G provides faster performance when compared to 3G. Most of today’s mobile devices are designed to handle both types of connectivity and can easily make a seamless transition from one to the other during travel.
Additionally, your cellular carrier provides you with a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card which is inserted into your mobile device. The SIM card is a memory chip that stores your subscription data which enables you to access 3G and 4G wireless Internet with your mobile device.
For visual learners, here is a video that briefly explains the difference between 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE.
DSL and Cable
When it comes to connectivity in your home, the most common type of high speed Internet is DSL which stands for Digital Subscriber Line and cable Internet. This type of connection is typically offered by providers such as Time Warner, Comcast, and others.
If you live in an area where 3G and 4G wireless connectivity is close by, then you can use this option for home wireless Internet connectivity as long as you do not exceed your data allowance in your plan. Otherwise, DSL and cable is the better option for obtaining high speed broadband Internet in your home. With this type of connection your local DSL or cable provider runs a line into your home to provide the high speed Internet connection. This is a wired connection that provides the Internet service.
With a DSL or cable connection, the provider will supply you with a modem that is connected to a PC in your home. In order to establish wireless Internet connectivity, you must install a wireless router which can be provided by your DSL or cable provider or, you can opt to purchase one in your local electronics store or online retailer.
The wireless router allows each device that is enabled with Wi-Fi capability to wirelessly connect to the Internet, regardless of what room you are located in. The wireless connection also includes Internet connectivity for a Smart TV which allows you to stream videos on-demand from the Internet.
To understand the difference between a home wireless network and the wireless Internet you access while on the go, it is easiest to think of your home wireless Internet connection as an extension of the wired connection your DSL or cable providers installs in your home. The wireless router serves as the key to access wireless Internet from your wired DSL or cable connection and provides every Internet-enabled device with access, even when you are using your device outside.
3G and 4G relies on airwaves as an alternative to a wired connection. This allows you to pick up a wireless signal on the go without the need for a wireless router in the vicinity. Instead, the airwaves are used as the result of towers in the case of 3G or one large area as in 4G infrastructure.
The following video will provide you with an idea of what is involved with adding a wireless router to your home Internet connection.
A satellite Internet service provider such as HughesNet can provide you with a high speed broadband Internet connection in your home. Similar to DSL and cable, this type of connection is wired through a cable that runs into your residence. The difference is that the signal is produced via a satellite in outer space which communicates with operational centers run by the Internet Service Provider.
To establish a high speed Internet connection using satellite, you must work with a satellite Internet provider such as HughesNet or WildBlue, which will provide you with a choice of monthly plans. Once you choose a plan, you are provided with a satellite dish and modem to establish the Internet connection in your home.
A qualified technician will visit your home to install the modem and cables and locate an appropriate area for the satellite dish. This must be an area that has a clear view of the southern sky to allow the dish to receive the signal from the satellite in outer space.
Once the installation is complete, you will have a high speed wired Internet connection ready to go. Like DSL and cable, you must add the wireless router to establish wireless Internet connectivity in your home. It is also important to mention, that some of the satellite Internet providers will quote you a discounted price if you choose to bundle other services such as TV and phone service in your plan.
Some of the providers of high speed Internet such as AT&T are gradually rolling out fiber optic networks which provide you with exceptionally high speed Internet capability. Fiber optic technology is much faster than cable or DSL Internet and is designed to accommodate the new Smart TVs that stream music and video from the Internet, gaming applications, and multiple devices that are simultaneously connected to the Internet in your home.
Fiber optic connectivity is not yet available in all areas. However, you can learn more about it on the AT&T U-verse website.
Public Wireless Hotspots
Public wireless hotspots are wireless Internet connections that you typically find in your local coffee shop, shopping malls, home improvement stores, various restaurants, and other locations. If you have a Wi-Fi enabled device, you can obtain wireless Internet while you are on the go and running errands.
Public wireless hotspots work very similar to your home wireless Internet connection we explained earlier in this article. The difference is that the provider of the hotspot such as a retail store, restaurant, or coffee shop is responsible for installing the high speed wired connection and then setting up the wireless router so customers can access the Internet with a Wi-Fi enabled device.
Most public wireless hotspots are free and use as a tool to attract customers. Other locations such as hotels and other venues may charge you a fee for wireless Internet access.
Dial-Up is a rather antiquated method for connecting to the Internet and involves providing Internet access via a landline telephone. In most cases, dial-up occupies your landline which prevents you from using the phone while you are connecting to the Internet. It is also extremely slow in performance speed which will prevent you from accessing modern technologies such as video streaming, web browsing, music, photos, and other applications that rely on higher connectivity speeds to function properly.
In reality, you need a minimum download speed of at least 6 Mbps (megabits per second) in order to effectively watch videos, view photos, stream videos, and surf the web on your mobile device. In most cases dial-up cannot offer this type of speed.
Overall, your main choices for high speed wireless broadband Internet in your home are satellite, DSL, cable, or fiber optic connectivity. When you are out and about, you can access 3G and 4G wireless Internet with your mobile device, in addition to public wireless hotspots.
It is also important to mention that most of the high speed Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are continually working toward improving the quality of their connections, especially during the last several years. For this reason, you should learn more about connectivity options from the service providers in your area so you can compare the services with one another before you make a decision.
Benefits of a Faster Wireless Internet Connection
Broadband Internet has become the most widely used type of Internet access because of its high speed access. In this article, we outlined your options when it comes to obtaining wireless high speed broadband which is commonly used to accommodate the modern applications and technologies that are unable to function without a fast connection.
The term “broadband” refers to high speed connectivity and provides significant bandwidth. The amount of bandwidth refers to the speeds that can be achieved when there is a lot of traffic being transmitted over a connection during peak periods of the day.
You can think of it as a two lane road at rush hour when thousands of cars are trying to get to their destination simultaneously. With a two lane road it will take you much longer to get home than if you are using a six lane freeway.
This is why bandwidth is important in conjunction with high speed Internet. If you are operating on a two lane road, videos will take forever to download, Internet calls will be intermittent, browsing the Internet becomes a hassle, and much more. Additionally, if you play a lot of games, low bandwidth can make playing the game very frustrating and opening email attachments will require you to take a coffee break while it downloads.
So, in addition to a high speed wireless Internet connection, it is important to learn more about bandwidth during peak hours of usage with any Internet Service Provider. In this case, it pays to speak with customers who are already using the service since many ISPs advertise higher bandwidth than you actually receive.
Here is a little more information on how broadband and Internet speed work.
The Bottom Line
Once you install a high speed broadband connection, the service is always on. The connection can always remain on through the use of the DSL or cable modem. A cable Internet connection uses a cable modem that ensures your PC is connected to the cable port in the wall. If your connection is DSL, the DSL modem is connected to your telephone line.
Unlike the antiquated dial-up service we mentioned earlier, you are not required to dial a specific phone number to gain access to the Internet. Instead, Internet access is provided by simply opening your web browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Google Chrome, etc., on your PC. Unlike the old days, this process only takes about ten seconds and you are up and running browsing the web. Plus, you can still use your phone line as well.