According to Pete: How WiFi Works

Pete digs into WiFi for a broad, hardware-ish level explanation of how it all works.

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I’ve previously had a high-level understanding of WiFi's function, but not so much understanding that I could give any kind of meaningful explanation, and after digging into it more deeply, I still can’t. It’s a shockingly broad subject with a zillion facets, and one video isn’t going to do justice to the graduate-level expertise this topic surely demands. In the face of that, we’ll do it anyway! This video is for all you out there who, like me, have largely taken WiFi for granted. It should give you just enough information so you don’t get beat up at a nerd party where everybody else knows the topic better than you do.

That’s a lie. This probably won’t save you. Maybe just smile and nod.


Comments 8 comments

  • Nice vid! I'll suggest a new title: Everything you need to know to know about Wi-Fi.

    It isn't so much about how WiFi works, but really just listing the most important technologies and standards that allow it to work.

    I especially liked the parts about the various transmission techniques, but I'd also suggest that you notate (in a youtube-comment-thing?) which layers of the OSI are responsible for implementing each of these standards of the wifi-alphabet-soup.

    • Good call on the OSI notation. With regard to the name... making a video that would really demonstrate all of how it works would be really long. Probably a series. That would stretch a full semester. Lacking that sort of time, I tried to get the most high-level and pertinent information that would take a person from 0 mph to maybe... 35 or so. You still can't get on the freeway, but you can get to all the shops close to home.

  • Great video, Pete! I have three comments, though:

    First, I'd really like to see a web page somewhere that has your "board notes" on them so that I could study them at a bit more length (maybe flipping back and forth between them)!

    Second, I think that there's a "typo" near the end, where you said that "g" was running at 2.4 MHz -- I think this should be 2.4 GHz.

    Third, there's some "overlap" between the ISM bands and the Amateur (Ham) Radio bands, and certain "WiFi" channels are in these "overlap" regions. Given the right hardware and firmware (so that you can restrict to operating in the "overlap" channels), if you have a Ham license you can really kick the power up and get much more range. (I believe the keyword is "Mesh".)

    OK, I lied - four comments: Fourth, I'd really like to see something that talks more about Bluetooth!

    • First,, that might be out of my hands, but we'll take it into consideration.

      Second, Yup, I goofed.Hey, it's only 3 orders of magnitude...

      Third, that's good to know. Anyplace I can potentially cause trouble is always good to know...

      Fourth... oh, man. Like WiFi isn't huge enough! Yeah, I think a Bluetooth video is in my future.

      • One other thing I forgot to mention that some readers might be interested in: Those "range" figures are for having an omni-directional antenna at both ends. You can do better by going to directional antennas. (I know of someone who here in the Phoenix area was able to achieve ~40 miles with "normal" 802.11g (IIRC) and a pair of highly directional antennas with a "beam width" in the low single-digit degrees, in clear weather. [Can you say "hard to aim"?] At those frequencies, rain, or even high humidity, can be an enemy -- especially at low power levels.) I remember chatter several years ago of folks building their own WiFi antennas, and that empty Pringles cans made for good starting points. Of course, all this isn't much use if your aim (pardon the pun) is to be able to drag your laptop around the house and stay connected. But if you want to IoT something out in the barn (like the milking machine?), it could be just the ticket.

        • Pringles cans! I remember, back in the day, trying to rip off HBO from the IDS tower in Minneapolis with a similar setup. That's awesome.

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