Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that allows computers and other devices to communicate over a wireless signal. It describes network components that are based on one of the 802.11 standards developed by the IEEE and adopted by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Examples of Wi-Fi standards, in chronological order, include:
Wi-Fi is the standard way computers connect to wireless networks. Nearly all modern computers have built-in Wi-Fi chips that allows users to find and connect to wireless routers. Most mobile devices, video game systems, and other standalone devices also support Wi-Fi, enabling them to connect to wireless networks as well. When a device establishes a Wi-Fi connection with a router, it can communicate with the router and other devices on the network. However, the router must be connected to the Internet (via a DSL or cable modem) in order to provide Internet access to connected devices. Therefore, it is possible to have a Wi-Fi connection, but no Internet access.
Since Wi-Fi is a wireless networking standard, any device with a "Wi-Fi Certified" wireless card should be recognized by any "Wi-Fi Certified" access point, and vice-versa. However, wireless routers can be configured to only work with a specific 802.11 standard, which may prevent older equipment from communicating with the router. For example, an 802.11n router can be configured to only work with 802.11n devices. If this option is chosen, devices with 802.11g Wi-Fi chips will not be able to connect to the router, even though they are Wi-Fi certified.
NOTE: The name "Wi-Fi" is similar to "Hi-Fi," which is short for "High Fidelity." However, "Wi-Fi" is not short for "Wireless Fidelity," but is simply a name chosen by the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Updated: March 11, 2014