Wireless Internet Basics

Wireless Internet refers to Internet access options where the “last mile” connectivity is wireless in nature. The advantages of having a wireless last mile are mobility and greater ease of deployment. The disadvantages are lower security and performance.

Fixed Wireless Internet works via a dish antenna receiving signals from an elevated line of sight tower within 50 km. Or via Satellite. Mobile Wireless Internet works via Bluetooth, WiFi, Mesh networks, WiMAX, GPRS, 1xRTT, EDGE, EV-DO and HSDPA.

A very approximate way of describing the mobile options would be to say that access via Bluetooth is like a television remote, which works only within a room. Access via WiFi is like a cordless phone, which works only within a building. Access via mesh networks or WiMAX is like a mobile phone without roaming, which works only within a city. While access via EDGE, 1xRTT, EV-DO or HSDPA is like a mobile phone with roaming, which works across the country or at least wherever the cellular signal exists.

Sprint’s Best Cellular Broadband Devices
Sascha Segan PC Magazine


These phones, laptops, and cellular cards will have you sprinting online anywhere you can get a cell signal.

Nationwide wireless Web access is a luxury, but it’s one I think is well worth the expense. With modems from AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon you can get online at high speeds anywhere you can get a cell signal, without having to worry about finding a Wi-Fi hotspot. This is a technology that’s transformed the way I work, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Access via Bluetooth and WiMAX has been relatively less widespread as compared to access via WiFi and cellular networks.

WiFi at home is convenient because we can use our laptop to surf the Net from the comfort of our sofa. It also simplifies Internet connection sharing. But WiFi really comes into its own at a public hotspot. This is where our laptop connects to the Net via a public access point. It is like taking our laptop to a cyber cafe and connecting to the LAN there but doing so wirelessly.

To setup WiFi at home, we need an Internet connection, a wireless router and a wireless card. To use WiFi at a public hotspot, we need a wireless card and a WiFi account (unless the access is free). Most laptops come with a wireless card built in.

WiFi is convenient but it requires access to a hotspot either at home or in a public place. For true mobility and independence, we need Mobile Internet, which uses cellular networks to connect to the ISP.

Mobile Internet is of two types:

  1. where the mobile phone uses the Internet connection itself such as in smartphones.
  2. where the mobile phone acts as a modem for our computer.

Let’s take the example of the newly introduced smartphone Apple iPhone 3G. It accesses the Net via EDGE, HSDPA or WiFi seamlessly switching to the fastest connection available. The problem is that it uses this Internet connection for itself. We can’t tether an iPhone to our computer and use its access to the Net. Some hackers have been able to do so but such modifications immediately void the warranty.

If we wish to access the Net on our laptop via a cellular network, we need a mobile phone or fixed wireless phone which acts as a modem and can be tethered to a laptop via USB or PCMCIA.

If the phone we have been using for voice calls has a modem, then it can provide us with Net access by using a data cable which connects the phone to the serial or USB port of our computer. If our phone does not have a modem or if we need to use both services together or if we don’t like the inconvenience of connecting and disconnecting our mobile phone from the computer then we can go ahead and buy a data card.

Because such a data card may be our second phone, we may not need it to make or receive voice calls. This is the reason, data cards come stripped down to basics. Usually there is no screen, keypad or earpiece. The keypad, screen, speakers and mic of the computer can act as substitutes in case we wish to use the data card for calls or SMS. Such a phone with USB interface looks almost like a USB pendrive. Similarly such a phone with PCMCIA interface looks like any other PC Card.

A mobile phone with a data cable is the most flexible arrangement because you can use it as a phone and as a modem. If the data cable connects to the USB port it means that we can use it with a desktop as well as a laptop. The disadvantage is that this arrangement is quite tedious requiring us to carry around the data cable, connect and disconnect it from our computer and so on.

A data card with a USB interface is somewhat flexible. While making calls with it is a little inconvenient (or may even be disabled altogether), atleast it can be used both with a desktop computer as well as with a laptop. This arrangement is a bit less tedious, just carry this USB pendrive looking device in your pocket or purse.

A data card with a PCMCIA interface is the least flexible. It can be used only with a laptop (although there are adapters that can take a PCMCIA data card and connect it to a USB port). This arrangement is the most convenient. Just plug it into the laptop and forget all about it.

We all know that mobile networks are of two types: based on GSM (such as Idea, Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL, MTNL) and based on CDMA (such as Reliance, Tata, BSNL, MTNL). Naturally, the modems work differently in GSM and CDMA phones. A GSM phone uses GPRS, EDGE and HSDPA, while a CDMA phone uses 1xRTT and EVDO.

Let us compare the theoretical maximum speeds on offer with those of Dial-up, WiFi and DSL. Dial-up is 56 kbps, GPRS is 110 kbps, 1xRTT is 144kbps, EDGE is 384kbps, EVDO is 3,100 kbps, HSDPA is 7,200 kbps, WiFi 54,000 kbps while DSL is 24,000 kbps. WiFi 802.11n offers 270,000 kbps but it is only now becoming available to end-users.

The following articles provide an insight into a road warrior’s search for the best technology and cheapest options for wireless Internet in USA. Developments in India might follow the same route.

SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – Access Away from the Office – Part 1: The Alternatives


SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – Access Away from the Office – Part 2: How To


SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – Access Away from the Office – Part 3: How Fast



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