Wireless Terms: Wi-Fi Terminology and Acronyms Explained

Are you fluent in wireless? Our Wi-Fi glossary gathers and explains the technical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms that abound when discussing wireless solutions and standards.

Here we have tried to compile the most common and some slightly lesser-known concepts in an up to date overview. Notice anything missing? Ping us on Twitter or email!

TermDescription
antennaAn antenna is a component of a device dedicated to sending and/or receiving wireless signals. Any device meant to send or receive wireless signals must have one or more antennas either externally and visibly, or internal antennas, which are usually not visible.
See also: Why Internal Antennas Are Better For Home Wi-Fi
airtimeAirtime is a measure of the wireless capacity in a given area and is measured in percentages. Airtime is not limited to the actively used capacity of a network or access point and can therefore be entirely consumed by, for example, interference from nearby networks.
See also: Bad apple: How a Single Device With Poor Coverage Can Ruin Your Wi-Fi
access pointAn access point has one or more wireless radios that allow other devices to connect wirelessly to connect to the internet. The most commonly used access points are wireless routers (routers with an access point embedded), Wi-Fi extenders, and separate wireless access points that sometimes have the capability to form a mesh network.
See also: Router, Wi-Fi Repeater and Access Point--What's the Difference?
bad appleA bad apple is a device that has so poor coverage that it consumes large portions of the wireless capacity (airtime) and thus kills Wi-Fi performance for everyone on the network.
See also: Bad Apple: How a Single Device Can Ruin Your Wi-Fi
BeamformingAlso known as spatial filtering, beamforming is a technology that shapes/directs the wireless signal towards a wireless client/device to deliver a stronger signal.
band steeringA form of client steering, band steering is functionality that allows the wireless access point(s) to determine which frequency band a device should be connected to based on what the device supports and which frequency band will provide the better performance under the circumstances.
See also: Why Band Steering Means Better Wi-Fi
dbmWi-Fi signal strength is measured in dBm, which is short for decibel-milliwatt. It is provided as a negative value, and under normal circumstances, signal strength close to a wireless access point will be around -30 dBm.
See also: Good Wireless Signal Strength
DFSDFS is short for Dynamic Frequency Selection. The term usually describes functionality that allows a wireless channel to prioritize radar signals. This means that a DFS-enabled access point must change the channel if detecting that a radar is sending signals using the channel it is currently on.
coverageWireless coverage is a term used to describe how far wireless signals reach at a satisfactory strength. The best way to measure the wireless coverage in a given area, is to use a tool known as a heatmapper.
See also: Map Your Wi-Fi With a Heatmapper
dipole antennaAn antenna with two poles, the most common type of external/external antenna, often used on routers and other devices that contain wireless access points.
See also: Why Internal Antennas Are Better For Home Wi-Fi
frequency bandA frequency band is part of a larger frequency range. Wi-Fi runs mainly on two frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
2.4 GHz is the frequency band used by older wireless technologies (802.11 b/g/n), which in practice means the slowest connections. Because of the long reach of its signals, this frequency band is also the most vulnerable to interference from other Wi-Fi networks, as well as other wireless equipment (Bluetooth, baby monitors), and microwave ovens..
5 GHz is the frequency band used by newer wireless standards such as 802.11ac, as well as some of the older (802.11 a/n), in practice the fastest connections. It is known to provide the wireless signals with the shortest reach, but the highest speeds/best performance, which is why it is the preferred frequency band for new laptops and (most) wireless devices. The short reach of the signals on this frequency band means multiple access points are often necessary to provide satisfactory coverage in a home.
See also: Why Band Steering Means Better Wi-Fi
Fribruksforskriften (Norwegian)Literally "free usage regulation", the regulations that set the legislative limits for wireless communication in Norway – frequencies, transmit strength and more.
See also: Why Boosting Your Wi-Fi Signal Is a Bad Idea
interferenceInterference is disruptions or noise that destroys the wireless signals and consumes airtime in an area. Sources of interference can be neighboring networks, multiple networks in the same house, microwaves, baby monitors, and wireless devices that use Bluetooth. Today, interference is primarily an issue on the 2.4 GHz frequency band.
See also: 10 things that interfere with and block Wi-Fi signals
IoTInternet of Things, the internet of things, denotes clients or devices that collect and exchange data, usually over a wireless internet connection. This can be large devices or machines, such as vehicles, and tiny devices, such as sensors embedded in clothes. Examples of IoT devices in the home are smart power meters and bathroom scales that sync with a training diary.
See also:
Wireless Standards for Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things
Experts Respond: Are IoT and Wi-Fi Mutually Destructive?
channelA given area of a frequency band. The rules and regulations for which channels are permitted for private wireless communication vary between countries and regions. For example, channel 13 on the 2.4 GHz band is commonly used in Europe, but not allowed in the United States. When many wireless networks in the same area transmit on the same channel, it can cause a lot of interference and have devastating effects on performance. To find out what channels are in use in an area, you can use a Wi-Fi scanner. The channel on which an access point is transmitting can normally be over-ridden by changing web-based settings on the access point.
See also:
Five Questions to Ask When You Can't Find the Wi-Fi
Locating Good Channels and Bad Neighbors with a Wi-Fi Scanner
clientComputers, mobile phones, tablets, and all other devices that need to connect to the wireless network are wireless clients. With the Internet of things, the number of clients–devices–per home is increasing significantly.
client steeringFunctionality in a wireless network that ensures each client connects to the access point that provides the best signal strength and performance at any one time.
See also: Sticky clients: When Devices Cling to a Bad Wi-Fi Connection
MU-MIMOMU-MIMO is short for "Multi-User Multiple Input-Multiple Output". Traditional wireless communication between access point and client is turn based – it is multiple clients take turns communicating with the access point at high speed. With MU-MIMO technology, routers and other access points can use information about client location in the room to keep communication streams open for multiple clients simultaneously. This is more efficient and provides better performance for the user. MU-MIMO is still relatively new technology and not supported by most routers and access points that are on the market.
See also: 802.11ac Wave 2: What's New?
PIFAPlanar Inverted F Antenna, an antenna that looks like an F lying down, the most common form of internal/interior antenna used for wireless equipment.
See also: Why Internal Antennas Are Better For Home Wi-Fi
radioRadio waves are the most common form of wireless communication. All Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices contain radio transmitters and receivers, connected to internal or external antennas. A device that can transmit on multiple frequency bands usually has one radio for each frequency band.
See also: The History of Wi-Fi
RSSIReceived Signal Strength Indication, how strong the signal is as received by the antenna of a wireless device.
See also: Good Wireless Signal Strength
routerThese days, combining router, modem, and wireless access point functionality in a single integrated access device (IAD) is very common. The modem is needed to connect to the internet, the router for multiple machines and devices to be able to share the same internet access, and the access point for them to do so over Wi-Fi. Even when the modem is separate, almost all routers intended for home use come with integrated Wi-Fi.
See also: Router, Wi-Fi Repeater and Access Point--What's the Difference?
SSIDThe network name that wireless access points transmit so that you can find the network and connect to it. An SSID can be shared between several access points on the same wireless network. In some cases, the SSID is configured to be hidden, but will still be easy to find with, for example, a Wi-Fi scanner.
See also: Five Things to Consider When Choosing a Network Name (SSID)
sticky clientA sticky client is a device that remains connected to an access point that no longer provides good coverage without switching to a better access point that might be available.
See also: Sticky clients: When Devices Cling to a Bad Wi-Fi Connection
Internet of ThingsOften just referred to as "IoT". Denotes clients or devices that collect and exchange data over an internet connection, usually wireless. This can be large devices or machines, such as vehicles, and tiny devices, such as sensors embedded in clothes. Examples of IoT devices in the home are smart power meters and bathroom scales that sync with a training diary.
See also:
Wireless Standards for Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things
Experts Respond: Are IoT and Wi-Fi Mutually Destructive?
Wi-FiOriginally a brand name from the Wi-Fi Alliance, which covers all products based on the 802.11 standards. It began as a play on "Hi-Fi" (high fidelity), which is used for high-quality audio.
See also:
The History of Wi-Fi
Wireless Standards for Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things
WLANWireless Local Area Network, a formal generic term for wireless LANs using IEEE 802.11 standards.
See also:
The History of Wi-Fi
Wireless Standards for Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things
wi-fi-repeaterA Wi-Fi repeater, also frequently referred to as an extender, is a wireless device that forwards or repeats the signals from a wireless router to cover a larger area.
See also:
Router, Wi-Fi repeater, and Access Point--What's the Difference?
Five Reasons Not to Get a Wi-Fi Repeater
WPA, WPA2, WEPEncryption standards to secure wireless communication between each device and the access point. WPA2 is currently the recommended standard.

Article by Jorunn Danielsen Newth


Eye Networks AS
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