WiFi and Mobile Broadband

Learning Objectives

  • to understand how to connect to a Wireless network.

Learning Outcomes

Must – recognise the devices and connections needed to connect to a Wireless network.

Should – understand the security protocols involved.

Could – understand the drawbacks of each type of connection.

What is WiFi?

WiFi is the shortened common name for Wireless Fidelity.  It is a method of connecting to a network or the Internet without the need for wires.  When the Internet became mainstream enough for home owners to have and afford, the only way to connect to the Internet was through Dial Up Internet connection using a wired modem.  This physically had to be connected to the computer using a wire.  The router then plugged into the telephone line.  A problem with Dial up connections is that they stopped incoming and outgoing telephone calls as the Dial Up modem wasn’t able to allow telephone calls and Internet browsing at the same time.

Thankfully those days are long gone, and now modems or routers as they are now known are able to handle wireless connections from devices such as Phones, Laptops, Games Consoles and Printers.

How does a device connect to a Wireless Network?

  1. Router

A Router is a device for connecting computers and other network capable devices together to form a network.  A router can be used within a home to share the Internet between different devices.  The part of the router that does this is called the Modem.  The easiest way to connect to a router is wirelessly through WiFi, in order to do this you will need the SSID and the WPA or WPA2 key.

Another way to connect to a router is through an Ethernet or CAT5 cable.  This is known as a wired connection.  Wired connections normally have a faster data transfer speed, but the limitation on them is that they require the device to be within the same area as the router.  It is quite common that a Router might be connected to a PVR, or Games Console in order to receive on-demand services or Internet downloads.

2. SSID – What is it and how does it work?

The SSID or Service Set Identification is a 32 character alphanumeric character identifier used for naming a wireless network.  The SSID is the method used to “find” and identify the network.  When a network is found, it will identify whether it is a public or private network, its level of security and it it is password protected.  Commercial organisations such as shops, restaurants and hotels will commonly rename their SSID names so they are recognisable and can be found.  For example, The Lock Keeper Hotel in Wallingford might have the SSID name “Lock_Keeper_Hotel_WiFi” rather that XfpR3sg35ggf as the network can be found quickly and can be associated quickly with the organisation.  The drawback is that networks can be found and accessed easier.

3. WPA and WPA2

WPA and WPA2 (WiFi Protected Access) is a form of encryption security protocols to prevent unauthorised access to a network.  WPA and WPA2 use a form of encryption which is a password which the user is required to enter in order to “join” the network.  The passwords are usually a mix of alphanumeric uppercase and lowercase characters and numbers.  WPA is a very secure protocol, WPA2 is its successor and a more powerful algorithm which is hard to crack.

4. Public, Private and Hidden Networks

When a network is set up it can be set up to be Public, Private or Hidden.  Home Networks which require a WPA or WPA2 are known as Private networks.  Private networks are not meant to be accessed by people who are not supposed to go onto the network.  For this reason sharing of a WPA key is not recommended.

Public networks are mainly unsecured networks which are available within commercial environments.  These networks are normally not password protected, which is good but also bad.  Good because it allows free access to surf, but bad as it allows hackers a potential backdoor entry into your device.

Hidden networks can be setup so they are not visible on WiFi searches.  Hidden networks are normally reserved for employees to access or for technical support purposes.

5. Bandwidth

Bandwidth is a term used to describe the transmission capacity of the medium that is transmitting data across a network. Telephone cables, for example, have a lower bandwidth than fibre optic cables. They can transmit a lower range of frequencies.  In simple terms, the higher the bandwidth the faster the download or upload speed.

Look at this link to see an image downloaded using different Bandwidth download speeds

6. MAC (Media Access Control)

MAC filtering or Media Access Filtering is a way to prevent devices accessing a Wireless network through an authentication process.  Every device that has WiFi capabilities built in has a hard-coded MAC number.  This cannot be removed or changed.  In the router software manager, MAC addresses can be inputted from devices that are allowed to access the Wireless network.  MAC addresses that haven’t been inputted will not be allowed to join the network unless permission is asked.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile Broadband is a service which is commonly available for devices to access the Internet (Broadband) without the need for a telephone line.  These Mobile Broadband devices come in for as USB dongles which connect laptops or desktops machine.  The dongle contains a transmitter which uses GSM Mobile phone transmitters from local mobile phone masts.

In order to access Mobile broadband, a user will need a data package.` These are available in 3G or 4G dependent on the network or signal.  4G services are more expensive.  Data Packages can be purchased using Pay As You Go or Pay Monthly.  Mobile Broadband data packages come with a data allowance usually measured in MB or GB.  Once this runs out you are normally charged for each MB you go over.

Task 1

In your exercise book draw a suitable annotate diagram to describe all the stages of connecting to a Wireless Network.  Ensure you include all the technical terms.

Download and print this document to help you.

Task 2 

Use the uSwitch price comparison site to find the top 3 best deals for mobile broadband in postcode DE56 0DA.  Find the deals for 30-60mb and 1 month and 12-month deals.