Wifi (also WiFi, Wi-fi or wifi), is a brand originally licensed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to describe the underlying technology of wireless local area networks (WLAN) based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications.
Wi-Fi was intended to be used for mobile computing devices, such as laptops, in LANs, but is now often used for increasingly more applications, including Internet and VoIP phone access, gaming, and basic connectivity of consumer electronics such as televisions and DVD players. There are even more standards in development that will allow Wi-Fi to be used by cars in highways in support of an Intelligent Transportation System to increase safety, gather statistics, and enable mobile commerce IEEE 802.11p.
A person with a Wi-Fi device, such as a computer, telephone, or personal digital assistant (PDA) can connect to the Internet when in proximity of an access point. The region covered by one or several access points is called a hotspot. Hotspots can range from a single room to many square miles of overlapping hotspots. Wi-Fi can also be used to create a Wireless mesh network. Both architectures are used in Wireless community network, municipal wireless networks like Wireless Philadelphia , and metro-scale networks like M-Taipei .
Wi-Fi also allows connectivity in peer-to-peer mode, which enables devices to connect directly with each other. This connectivity mode is useful in consumer electronics and gaming applications.
When the technology was first commercialized there were many problems because consumers could not be sure that products from different vendors would work together. The Wi-Fi Alliance began as a community to solve this issue so as to address the needs of the end user and allow the technology to mature. The Alliance created another brand "Wi-Fi CERTIFIED" to denote products are interoperable with other products displaying the "Wi-Fi CERTIFIED" brand.
Wi-Fi uses both single carrier direct-sequence spread spectrum radio technology, part of the larger family of spread spectrum systems and multi-carrier OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) radio technology. Unlicensed spread spectrum was first authorized by the Federal Communications Commission in 1985 and these FCC regulations were later copied with some changes in many other countries enabling use of this technology in all major countries. These regulations then enabled the development of Wi-Fi, its onetime competitor HomeRF, and Bluetooth.
The precursor to Wi-Fi was invented in 1991 by NCR Corporation/AT&T (later Lucent & Agere Systems) in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands. It was initially intended for cashier systems; the first wireless products were brought on the market under the name WaveLAN with speeds of 1 Mbit/s to 2 Mbit/s. Vic Hayes, who was the primary inventor of Wi-Fi and has been named the 'father of Wi-Fi,' was involved in designing standards such as IEEE 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g. In 2003, Vic retired from Agere Systems. Agere Systems suffered from strong competition in the market even though their products were high quality, as many opted for cheaper Wi-Fi solutions. Agere's 802.11a/b/g all-in-one chipset (code named: WARP) never made it to market, and Agere Systems decided to quit the Wi-Fi market in late 2004.
Origin and meaning of the term "Wi-Fi"
Despite the similarity between the terms "Wi-Fi" and "Hi-Fi", statements reportedly  made by Phil Belanger of the Wi-Fi Alliance contradict the popular conclusion that "Wi-Fi" stands for "Wireless Fidelity".
According to Mr. Belanger, the Interbrand Corporation developed the brand "Wi-Fi" for the Wi-Fi Alliance to use to describe WLAN products that are based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. In Mr. Belanger's words, "Wi-Fi and the yin yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We (the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance) hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than 'IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence'."
The Wi-Fi Alliance themselves invoked the term "Wireless Fidelity" with the marketing of a tag line, "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity," but later removed the tag from their marketing. The Wi-Fi Alliance now seems to discourage propagation of the notion that "Wi-Fi" stands for "Wireless Fidelity" but includes it in their knowledge base:
To understand the value of Wi-Fi Certification, you need to know that Wi-Fi is short for "Wireless Fidelity," and it is the popular name for 802.11-based technologies that have passed Wi-FI certification testing. This includes IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and upcoming 802.11 technologies.
Wi-Fi: How it works
The typical Wi-Fi setup contains one or more Access Points (APs) and one or more clients. An AP broadcasts its SSID (Service Set Identifier, "Network name") via packets that are called beacons, which are broadcast every 100 ms. The beacons are transmitted at 1 Mbit/s, and are of relatively short duration and therefore do not have a significant influence on performance. Since 1 Mbit/s is the lowest rate of Wi-Fi it assures that the client who receives the beacon can communicate at least 1 Mbit/s. Based on the settings (e.g. the SSID), the client may decide whether to connect to an AP. Also the firmware running on the client Wi-Fi card is of influence. Say two APs of the same SSID are in range of the client, the firmware may decide based on signal strength to which of the two APs it will connect. The Wi-Fi standard leaves connection criteria and roaming totally open to the client. This is a strength of Wi-Fi, but also means that one wireless adapter may perform substantially better than the other. Since Wi-Fi transmits in the air, it has the same properties as a non-switched ethernet network. Even collisions can therefore appear like in non-switched ethernet LAN's.
Channels Except for 802.11a, which operates at 5 GHz, Wi-Fi uses the spectrum near 2.4 GHz, which is standardized and unlicensed by international agreement, although the exact frequency allocations vary slightly in different parts of the world, as does maximum permitted power. However, channel numbers are standardized by frequency throughout the world, so authorized frequencies can be identified by channel numbers.
Wi-Fi vs. cellular
Some argue that Wi-Fi and related consumer technologies hold the key to replacing cellular telephone networks such as GSM. Some obstacles to this happening in the near future are missing roaming and authentication features (see 802.1x, SIM cards and RADIUS), the narrowness of the available spectrum and the limited range of Wi-Fi. It is more likely that WiMax will compete with other cellular phone protocols such as GSM, UMTS or CDMA. However, Wi-Fi is ideal for VoIP applications e.g. in a corporate LAN or SOHO environment. Early adopters were already available in the late '90s, though not until 2005 did the market explode. Companies such as Zyxel, UT Starcomm, Samsung, Hitachi and many more are offering VoIP Wi-Fi phones for reasonable prices.
In 2005 ADSL ISP started to offer VoIP services to their customers (eg. the Dutch ISP XS4All). Since calling via VoIP is free or low-cost, VoIP enabled ISPs have the potential to open up the VoIP market. GSM phones with integrated Wi-Fi & VoIP capabilities are being introduced into the market and have the potential to replace land line telephone services.
Currently it seems unlikely that Wi-Fi will directly compete against cellular in areas that have only sparse Wi-Fi coverage. Wi-Fi-only phones have a very limited range, so setting up a covering network would be too expensive. Additionally, cellular technology allows the user to travel while connected, bouncing the connection from tower to tower (or "cells") as proximity changes, all the while maintaining one solid connection to the user. Many current Wi-Fi devices and drivers do not support roaming yet and connect to only one access point at a time. In this case, once you are out of range of one "hotspot", the connection will drop and will need to be re-connected to the next one each time.
For these reasons, Wi-Fi phones are still best suited for local use such as corporate or home networks. However, devices capable of multiple standards, called converged devices, (using SIP or UMA) may well compete in the market. Top-tier handset manufacturers have announced converged dual-radio handsets. Converged handsets present several compelling advantages to mobile carriers:
Efficient spectrum allocation, as more data-intensive services come online and bandwidth demands increase
Improved in-building coverage in markets such as the US, where dropped calls are still a major cause of customer dissatisfaction
Opportunities for mobile operators to offer differentiated pricing and services
Commercial Wi-Fi services are available in places such as Internet cafes, coffee houses, hotels and airports around the world (commonly called Wi-Fi-caf' ' Šs), although coverage is patchy in comparison with cellular.