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What is Wireless Broadband?

With terms like 'free WiFi' and ‘mobile broadband' being used regularly in coffee shops, online, in adverts and pretty much anywhere that's publicly accessible, how can you tell the difference? What about wireless broadband? Is that something you put in your house or something you connect to at work? What about on your phone? Terminology is often confusing, but there are a few key points that distinguish the use of one type of connection from another:

  • First of all, as the name suggests, wireless broadband - also known as WiFi - allows you to connect to the Internet at high speed without using any wires or cables. You do this using a wireless router.

  • A wireless router is a single piece of hardware that combines a modem (which you use to receive your Internet signal through your phone line), and a wireless router (that acts like a transmitter so that all of the WiFi-enabled devices around your house or at work can share the same connection).

The advantage of wireless broadband is that you don't need to be restricted by the cable that would traditionally connect your desktop computer to your modem. You can move around and going online becomes portable. You can have your computers connected directly to the router using a cable if you want to, or have all of your computers connecting wirelessly, or even a mix of both.

How does it work? Well, the modem inside the wireless router picks up the Internet signal and transmits it using radio waves to the immediate surrounding area. Those WiFi-enabled devices we mentioned before can then pick up the same signal.

The most common way to take advantage of this is to use a laptop. Most new machines have Wi-Fi adapters built in, so you won't need any additional hardware, but if not you can pick up a small plug-in device (sometimes referred to as a dongle) that looks like a stick of chewing gum and fits into a spare USB port for around £10.

In Internet cafés and other public access areas, you might need to pay a fee to connect, but there are more and more free hot spots cropping up across the UK every day.

It's worth keeping in mind though that as wireless broadband is transmitted via radio waves, secure passwords and firewalls are used on most networks to ensure that only authorised users are given access. Unwanted connections can slow network traffic by using up valuable bandwidth, and could cause other more serious problems. Home users with wireless broadband are well advised to take these measures to protect their network and any data (like bank details or credit card numbers) that you might be stored on your computer. For users of Windows XP additional information on securing your computer can be found here.

Mobile broadband on the other hand, takes this a step further and allows you to access the Internet while out and about, meaning that you are no longer limited by the area of your wireless network. A dongle, USB modem or data card plugs into your laptop and accesses the relevant mobile phone network. While mobile broadband gives you more freedom to move about, it's also important to check the available speeds and if unlimited downloads are available.