With the explosive growth of the Internet, more and more people got connected. The world suddenly became much smaller, because the distance between people from different parts of the world no longer prevented them from collaborating. In the 90s, there was a frenzied race to get people and corporations connected. Today, Internet access is a necessity; even novice users have trouble finding value in a computer that doesn’t have email, a web browser, or instant messenger (IM).
While Internet access becomes as important as telephone or cable service, even more demanding users are appearing who are not satisfied in just getting connected. They want flexible ways to get connected wherever they take their notebook computers.
When wireless networking became affordable, early adopters installed it in their homes and offices, and it also quickly became a part of life in other places: many Starbucks Coffee and Borders bookstores now include wireless hotspots, mobile users are reading and sending email over cellular networks, and students are learning with notebook computers equipped with wireless network cards.
Today, wireless devices come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, wireless technology is not something new: remote control cars and TV remote controls have been in use for some time. Wireless technologies have penetrated our lives for so long that we take them for granted. In the case of a TV remote controller, infrared technology (which uses light) carries signals across the room. For the remote control car, radio waves transmit information from the controller to the car.
This book explains the following wireless technologies and how to use them with a Windows XP computer:
Wi-Fi is sometimes called “wireless Ethernet.” Using Wi-Fi, you can connect to the Internet without wires and roam from place to place (within range of the network) while maintaining your connection. Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit information. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5 discuss Wi-Fi.
Bluetooth is often touted as a cable-replacement technology. Like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth also uses radio waves but operates within a shorter range. It is ideal for replacing cables that connect two devices. For example, your keyboard and mouse can use Bluetooth technology to transmit signals to your computer, eliminating unsightly cables that often get hopelessly tangled. You can also wirelessly synchronize your PDA with your computer via Bluetooth. Chapter 6 discusses Bluetooth.
Infrared technology has been with us for a number of years. Infrared requires line of sight (LOS) to transmit data. Infrared is a short-range wireless technology like Bluetooth, but it uses light waves that are just outside the spectrum of visible light rather than radio waves. Chapter 7 discusses Infrared.
While Wi-Fi allows you to connect to the network wirelessly, it has limited coverage. Physically moving out of range of a wireless network breaks the connection. In highly mobile situations, GPRS and CDMA2000 may be the ideal solution (or a complement to Wi-Fi for network connectivity when you’re away from a hotspot). CDMA2000 and GPRS are two leading networking technologies used by high-speed (at the time of this writing, 50 to 70 Kbps; sometimes higher) cellular networking called 3G (which stands for third-generation, but it is usually called 2.5G because the current technology didn’t quite live up to the high speeds originally promised). As long as you are within reach of a cell tower, either protocol will keep you connected to the network (and Internet).
The choice of CDMA2000 or GPRS is generally dictated by your choice of wireless provider. For example, AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile both use GPRS for their 2.5G cellular networking, while Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA2000. At the time of this writing, unlimited CDMA2000 data plans are available for $80 a month in the United States, but only T-Mobile offers flat-rate GPRS pricing ($80 gets you around 60 MB with AT&T; T-Mobile offers unlimited GPRS for as little as $20 a month). Chapter 8 discusses cellular networking. (Chapter 6 shows how you can connect to the Internet using a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone as a modem, and Chapter 7 does the same, but with Infrared).
Besides talking about the various wireless technologies, this book also covers some of their uses:
A wireless hotspot is a specific location where you can connect to the Internet wirelessly using Wi-Fi. Some wireless hotspots include your favorite Starbucks Coffee, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Delifrance outlets. With wireless hotspots, you can now work, sip some coffee, and engage in people-watching all at the same time. Chapter 3 discusses connecting to wireless hotspots.
GPS is a technology that has many commercial and academic uses. Using a GPS receiver and relevant mapping software, delivery personnel can quickly locate a destination with the aid of the navigational software. A GPS device works by reading the data emitted by satellites orbiting around the earth and calculating the destination’s precise location on earth. Chapter 9 discusses GPS.
One of the dream uses of wireless technology is the ability to work anywhere in the comfort of your home. Until Microsoft started shipping its Smart Display product, this was only available to laptop users. With a Smart Display, you can detach your monitor from your desktop computer and work or play wirelessly in the comfort of your own home. Chapter 10 discusses Microsoft Smart Display.