Wi-Fi towers provide wireless connections to the Internet in areas where wired Internet connections -- namely cable and DSL -- are not readily available, such as rural regions. Wi-Fi technology works on the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz radio frequencies, and, like broadcast radio, transfer data over radio airwaves. In essence, a Wi-Fi tower -- technically known as a Wi-Fi antenna -- works in the same manner as a Wi-Fi router, but on a grander scale.
A Wi-Fi tower transfers data from a wired connection to the Internet -- typically a phone line -- over radio airwaves to another Wi-Fi tower and then to a various computing devices, including personal computers and mobile phones. Paired Wi-Fi towers must have an unobstructed view of each other, and must be directly aligned to one another because the transmitted signals are not as strong as radio broadcast signals. Wi-Fi towers are capable of transmitting data up to 60 miles -- shorter if there are variable conditions such as weather.
Unlike wireless routers, which broadcast in a 360-degree circle, a Wi-Fi tower transmits data signals directionally, meaning it only broadcasts to a Wi-Fi tower to which it is precisely tuned. Some Wi-Fi towers feature an electrical steering tuner that allows for some leeway in linking two Wi-Fi towers with each other's signals. On the receiving end, the Wi-Fi tower links to a traditional wireless router, through which connected devices can access the Internet.
Once paired, Wi-Fi towers have an established link to one another, and function in the same manner as traditional Wi-Fi connections made through a cable or DSL link to the Internet. Through a wireless router, connected devices are also capable of performing a variety of tasks inherent to a local area network, including printing and sharing files.
Although a Wi-Fi tower is capable of transmitting data for up to 60 miles, a wireless router is only capable of providing links to computing devices for up to 300 feet. The signals shared between Wi-Fi towers cannot be directly tapped into by computing devices because of the directional limitations that come with Wi-Fi tower signal transmissions. Wi-Fi technology is built on the 802.11 standards, which include the 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n protocols. A newer technology, known as WiMAX, is capable of wirelessly transferring data for up to 30 miles, and as of the time of publication is beginning to gain widespread use, replacing the need for Wi-Fi towers. WiMAX technology does not involve the use of matching units like Wi-Fi towers, but is able to transmit data in the same manner as a wireless router.