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WiFi: The Super-Simple Explanation (I Hope)


I received some criticism for my attempts to explain WiFi in easy-to-understand terms. Some readers said it still wasn’t simple enough and that I used too many terms they didn’t understand. So I’m going to give it another go.

WiFi refers to a wireless signal that you can connect computers, phones, tablets and other devices to. Being connected to a WiFi signal enables you to reach the Internet to surf the web, stream music or movies, or send email.


The connection is provided by an Internet service provider. (often referred to as an ISP for short.)  Much like the electric company delivers electricity or the gas company delivers gas. There are different types of companies that offer this service. Some only deal in Internet connections, while others bundle it together with a cable television or satellite package. Your ISP is the company you pay to provide the connection.

The device that makes it possible for your home to receive that connection is called a modem. A modem is like a combination of an electric meter and a breaker box. It allows the Internet connection to work with the things you need to plug into it and it monitors how much data you are using.

A modem may be provided by your ISP or you may have to supply it. You can plug a PC directly into the modem to establish the connection. (but you can’t plug in a tablet or phone.) To have WiFi, you’ll need an additional piece of equipment called a router. A router can be a separate device or the router may be built into the modem.  A router broadcasts a wireless signal (WiFi) throughout your house. This signal is known as a wireless network.


Once you have a wireless network broadcasting throughout your house, your PC, tablet, smartphone, game console, and other WiFi devices can log onto it and use it to connect to the Internet.

When you or your ISP sets up your network, it should be password protected. Anyone logging onto that network with a device will need to enter a password. Logging on is usually as simple as finding WiFi or Network in the settings for your device and then entering the password.

I hope that simplifies things, but if you need more clarification, let me know in the comments.

~ Cynthia

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4 Responses to “WiFi: The Super-Simple Explanation (I Hope)”

  1. Doug says:

    Cynthis, great job. One thing I might add is that being afraid never gets us anywhere. I let wireless technology sneak up on me and I was left ignorant. What I’ve done is talk to people, get confused, and then go back with questions. I am not expert, but I can navigate around my home network. As I built I talk to salesmen at Bestbuy, PC Connection and others. I finally jumped in and did not drown. I am still green, but I did it. By the way, the 16 year smart-arse down the street was a big help once I overcame my fear of his ease with the lingo.

  2. noble says:

    I’m still confused about what the ISP actually provides. If my computer has a modem, and I can buy my own router, why do I need to pay (for what seems to be a middleman)to get connected?

  3. […] response to my Wireless Basics tip, a reader had a question. “I’m still confused about what the ISP actually provides. If my […]

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