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How Wireless Internet Cards Work


Comparing Wireless Internet Connection Cards
Wireless Internet cards come in many different flavors, like this one for PDAs.
Wireless Internet cards come in many different flavors, like this one for PDAs.
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You'll need to pay attention to several things when purchasing a wireless Internet card, such as the networking standard that the card uses. For example, 802.11b, which used to be the dominant WiFi standard, is meant for wireless networks operating in the 2.4-gigahertz range. It supports a bandwidth of 11 megabits of data per second. The bandwidth refers to how much data can be transferred in a set amount of time. The higher the number, the faster the rate of transfer. So 802.11g and 802.11n, which send data over the Internet at speeds of 54 and 140 megabits per second, respectively, are going to stream your video faster than the clunkier 802.11b standard.

Paying attention to the network standard on the card you purchase is important because you need it to be able to communicate with the other wireless products you'll be using. For instance, if your home network uses the 2.4-gigahertz frequency, and you buy a card that just works in the 5-gigahertz range, you'll be out of luck. However, if you buy a card that is WiFi-certified for the same frequency band and with the same features (such as encryption codes) of the other products you'll be using, you're good to go. If you want a card that works on different frequencies, you can get a dual-band one, which will be compatible with all WiFi-certified products.

In addition, don't forget to look at the card's transfer rate, range and the operating system it requires. Also, consider whether you want a card with an external or internal antenna. Last but not least is security. Wireless networks are notoriously easier to hack into than wired ones, which means you have to take extra measures to protect yourself. The Wi-Fi Alliance suggests always connecting through a trusted provider that uses encryption technologies, enabling security if you have your own network and buying products that are WiFi-certified for WiFi Protected Access (WPA).

Wireless technology shows no signs of stopping its quest to allow you to check your e-mail anytime, anywhere. Soon you may even be able to surf the net while flying at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). For more on wireless technology, including where to find the nearest hot spot, try some of the links on the next page.