What Is the Difference Between Wireless & Wi-Fi?

By Matt Fregoe

Since the advent of the wireless Internet craze, the words "wireless" and "Wi-Fi" have been used as a synonym for Internet access without cables or wires. What many don't know is that the term "wireless" can be associated with many other devices that provide a wire-free interface. Wi-Fi is the standard term used specifically for wireless Internet; the term actually does not refer to every device that uses Internet over radio waves but is used as a certification term for those following wireless Internet standards.

Wireless

A wireless device or system refers to a transfer of information over a non-physical interface. Specifically, "wireless" refers to an interface that does not require a wire, or subsequent cable, to transfer information through. The term "wireless" can refer to devices such as TV remote controls, radio communication devices and satellite interaction, among other wireless communication methods.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi communication refers to device interaction approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance group as following IEEE 802.11 standards for wireless local area network communication (WLAN). Devices such as wireless routers, modems and switches conform to these standards to communicate wirelessly with devices such as laptops and gaming systems to provide Internet communication without the use of a wired interface. Wi-Fi can be thought of as a sub-term of wireless in that it refers to a specific type of wireless communication method.

Difference

While wireless can refer to a variety of different device interfacing, Wi-Fi communication can only refer to the communication of Internet radio waves over the air to bring these services to other devices without direct physical connection. For example, say you have a laptop that is wirelessly communicating with the Internet and a wireless mouse also connected to the same laptop. While the Internet is coming though a Wi-Fi interface, the mouse is using another type of wireless communication such as Bluetooth technology or laser connection (like that of a TV remote), and not using anything associated with Wi-Fi.

Term Confusion

The term "wireless" has come to refer to availability of Wi-Fi service in some areas. Seeing a sign in a cafe that reads "Free Wireless Access Here" is actually referring to Wi-Fi availability rather than just any type of wireless communication. While the term "Wi-Fi" was popular when wireless Internet communication began, it has slowly decreased in use and now, since most people expect to have Internet access in every place they visit, the term is used on rarer occasion.

Benefits

Wireless communication as well as Wi-Fi communication provide the world with easier and more portable device options for their everyday technologies. While general wireless technology has been around since the invention of the radio, Wi-Fi follows in the footsteps of past wireless technologies to bring fast internet use to computer users without having to held down to a desk by an Ethernet cable.