Wi-Fi networks are available at coffee shops and bookstores. Many hotels and restaurants even offer Wi-Fi connections. Before the computer can connect to a Wi-Fi area, it needs an adapter and an operating system that supports wireless networking. Many laptops already have wireless adapters installed, but the equipment is an add-on for desktop computers.
Wi-Fi networks allow users to connect to the Internet while traveling. Wi-Fi networks are also available in the home, so users can move a laptop or a desktop around the house without worrying about a hardwired connection. To enable wireless communication in the home or office, a wireless router is required. Wireless routers are affordable devices available at computer stores. Common router manufacturers include Linksys, Netgear and D-Link.
If the wireless router is installed, the only other hardware required is a wireless adapter. Many laptops have internal wireless network cards pre-installed with the system when it's purchased. Desktop computers may need an add-on component. Network cards for Wi-Fi networks are sold as internal cards that connect directly to the computer's motherboard, or USB devices are available. USB devices snap into a port, and the machine is ready for a connection.
Each network card required for a Wi-Fi connection needs software drivers. Drivers allow the wireless network card to communicate with the operating system. Drivers are included with the purchase of the card. Ensure that the card is compatible with the computer's operating system. Most hardware manufacturers provide device drivers for Linux, Apple and Windows operating systems.
With the card installed, the network card automatically detects Wi-Fi networks. Users can browse available networks from the network card interface. Some Wi-Fi networks are password-protected, so users need the password before they can use the network. This also protects the networks from unauthorized access. Wi-Fi networks are given a name, so that they can be identified in the available network scan.
When connecting to open-access, public networks, users should always connect to encrypted websites when working with personal information such as banking. It's also recommended that home Wi-Fi networks have a password-protected router connection. This ensures that only the homeowner can connect to the private network.