Thanks to the Internet, there’s loads of information about anything and everything you need to know. Like everyone else, I take advantage of the World Wide Web to find solutions for almost all my problems – especially if it involves technical stuff like wireless connectivity.
Here are just the necessary things you should know about this and how helpful it can be.
1. How Was Wi-Fi Discovered?
Before anything else, it pays to learn a bit more about the basics. So, how was Wi-Fi discovered?
The creation of wireless Internet became possible in 1990 through the ruling of the Federal Communications Commission in 1985. AT&T developed the technology and used it in cash register systems.
At that time, bouncing information waves caused unclear reception. So, an Australian research organization, known as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), solved it. Afterward, it was applied for wireless technology patent.
After 20 years, wireless technology is now part of our everyday lives. Smartphone and computer users use the wireless networks daily to access the Internet.
At present, fast food restaurants, bookstores, cafes, and libraries offer Wi-Fi connection to their customers. Even our homes have wireless networks to connect to the Internet.
Of course, some devices enable our equipment to connect to the Internet wirelessly. One of these devices is the wireless adapter.
2. What Is a Wireless Adapter?
A wireless adapter is an attachment to a computer or any other device to permit wireless system connection. Unless your device has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, you cannot connect to a network without it.
It usually takes the form of a USB stick, which you plug into your device or computer. Another type is a PCI network card that you plug into your computer’s motherboard. In general, you cannot plug it into an Ethernet port. An Ethernet cable is used to connect your device or computer to a router.
Thanks to the advent of new technology, a wireless adapter is already obsolete. Portable computers now have built-in wireless connectors, which you can enable or disable.
3. How Does a Wireless Adapter Work?
When the wireless adapter receives signals from your computer, it transforms them into radio waves, which go through the antenna. The radio waves satisfy any of the 802.11 broadcast standards, which determine the data transfer speed using the 2.4GHz radio frequency band.
The oldest standard requires a maximum broadcast speed of 11Mbps. The latest measure, IEEE 802.11n involves a rate of up to 300Mbps. However, wireless adapters are slower because of crowded radio frequencies and interference. Theoretically, the draft standard 802.11ac can reach up to 1Gbps and operate in the 5GHz frequency band.
A wireless adapter can broadcast signals from your device to up to 200 feet. So, a device with a wireless adapter can access your files if it can pick up the signals emanating from your computer.
Thus, it is essential that you secure your intellectual property and sensitive data. To ensure your computer against unauthorized access, you can encrypt your wireless adapters using different protocols. The WPA2 protocol provides the most reliable security, while the WEP protocol offers the weakest protection.
4. How Do I Choose a Wireless Network Adapter?
Choosing a suitable wireless network adapter all depends on your needs, such as performance and network capability. There’s also a matter of choosing between a portable and a stationary wireless adapter.
Again, this would depend on the equipment you are using.
For me, since I use a gaming laptop, then a portable adapter would suffice. On the other hand, if you’re using a desktop computer, then a stationary wireless adapter is best.
5. What Do I Consider When Buying a Wireless Adapter?
With a wide range of models and prices of wireless adapters on the market, it’s a headache looking for the most suitable one. I’ll make it easier for you. Here are a few simple factors to consider when purchasing a wireless adapter:
A. Dual-band capacity
When considering signal reception, there’s a choice between a 2.4GHz transmission and a 5.0 GHz transmission. A 2.4 GHz transmission is stronger, yet slower. It can penetrate obstacles like walls easily. However, fewer USB wireless adapters are dual-band.
B. Number of antennas
PCI-e wireless adapter, more on this further on, feature antennas that aid in signal strength. Basically, more antennas = more strength. For example, a three-antenna adapter has a speed of 1,300 Mbps on a 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi.
6. What Are the Types of Wireless Adapter?
Here are the 4 Kinds of Wireless Adapter:
A. External Wi-Fi Adapter
Apart from my laptop, I connect to the Wi-Fi using my desktop computer through an external adapter. An external adapter is also useful for older laptops, which do not have such a feature.
Not all wireless adapters are used to connect to the Internet. Some are used for wireless data transfer. This includes a Bluetooth adapter.
C. Cellular Wireless Adapter
Also known as a broadband adapter, broadband card, or an air card, a cellular modem can access 3G or 4G internet network through a smartphone.
D. “N” Wi-Fi PCI Card
For a laptop or desktop computer user, an “N” Wi-Fi PCI Card plugged into the PCI slot is needed to access a wireless network. The PCI mentioned above Card supports the 802.11n wireless connectivity standard.
7. What Is a USB Wi-Fi Adapter?
A USB Wi-Fi adapter is an embedded chip that can convert radio frequency signals into something that the computer understands. This chip is the same one in smartwatches, smartphones, and other smart home devices.
For a PC, a USB Wi-Fi adapter looks like a USP receiver for wireless mouse and keyboard or a USB flash disk. You may find a bulkier adapter that offers superior strength and range. Many USB Wi-Fi adapters also feature removable antennas. So, you have the choice to replace the antenna with one that has a higher power.
8. Do I Need a USB Wireless Adapter?
If you want to connect to a network without the need for an Ethernet cable, then you’d need a USB wireless adapter. I use the same thing since it is affordable and can be used with different devices.
There are USB wireless adapters that no longer require a lengthy set-up. A plug-and-play USB adapter is ready to use as soon as it is plugged to a USB port.
This type of Wi-Fi adapter is advantageous if you’re trying to connect to networks with poor connectivity. It provides better signal reception than a built-in chip does.
9. What Do I Need to Consider Before Buying a USB Wireless Adapter?
Some brands offer robust and larger versions that deliver speeds of up to 300 Mbps. Furthermore, prices vary depending on the model and brand. Some USB adapters are inexpensive. Before you buy a wireless adapter, do make sure to check all the features.
If you’re like me who owns two devices with different operating systems, Windows and Mac, then you need to search for models that are usable for both.
For a USB Wi-Fi connector model that supports faster connections, there’s the 802.11n Wi-Fi. This model is ten times faster than an 802.11b, and twice as fast as the 802.11g.
Moreover, it has a broader connectivity range.
However, faster adapters are costlier than the earlier versions. So, it’s best to consider manufacturer customer support, security, and warranty period.
Another thing to note is the location of the ports in the device you’re currently using. If you’re computer’s port, like mine, is located on the back, then you’d need a USB extension cable.
It is difficult for the Wi-Fi antenna to pick up the wireless signals without the extension cable. A USB extension cable can easily be purchased in stores or online if manufacturers do not include it with their models.
10. Why Do I Need to Check My Computer’s USB Ports Before Buying a Wi-Fi Adapter?
It’s to ensure that your computer has enough ports for the Wi-Fi connector. There are powered USB hubs that can be bought if the ports are not enough. Every device has a USB 2.0 or 3.0 ports. Even an older laptop model has the earlier version, which is a USB 2.0 port. Also, an older router will hamper the performance of the latest Wi-Fi adapter.
You’d be wasting hard-earned money if you end up buying the best USB wireless adapter, but end up not being able to use it on an older router that does not support it. Therefore, before purchasing an adapter, it’s best to check if you have the right router and USB port for it.
11. Where Can I buy a USB Wireless Connector?
USB Wi-Fi connectors are available in electronic stores, mass merchandise stores, and office supply stores. Numerous manufacturers produce different models, so selections vary. At present, USB Wi-Fi connectors can easily be bought online.
It’s also essential to ensure that you have protection against malware when you buy a USB adapter. If you buy a USB adapter, check if it supports different wireless security protocols like WEP, WPA, and WPA2. Also, check the manufacturers guarantee on providing security updates for wireless adapters they no longer produce.
12. What Are the Pros and Cons of USB Wireless Adapters?
One huge advantage of a USB wireless network adapter is its ease of use. I attach it through the USB port, and voila, I can connect to the Wi-Fi network seamlessly. Moreover, it does not occupy a lot of space. I use it for my laptop or my desktop computer.
On the other hand, one disadvantage of this type of adapter is that it is less potent than the PCI-e adapter is. Due to its small size, it does not have an external antenna. Signal reception is not as strong as the PCI-e network wireless adapter. Also, the USB adapter has slower download and upload speeds.
There are, however, some models that have an external antenna that you can move to get better Wi-Fi reception.
I use the USB Wi-Fi adapter if there is a precise and straight-line distance between it and the wireless router. This way, I get excellent speeds with it. Rates can also depend on the adapter quality and locations of the computer and router.
13. What Are the Benefits of a USB Wi-Fi Adapter?
Here are some most popular benefits for a USB adapter:
A. Cable-free Connection
In previous years, I needed an Ethernet cable to connect my computer to a router. With today’s wireless connectivity, I can access the Internet anywhere. With my USB Wi-Fi adapter, I no longer have to hardwire my 800$ laptop with a network device.
The adapter takes less space and receives and translates signals as long as my device is within range of a wireless network.
B. Automatic Access to the Internet
A USB wireless connector allows me to access the Wi-Fi automatically. It provides a more extended connectivity range so I have access to the Internet wherever I may be. Even when I am outdoors, I can connect to the Wi-Fi through my USB adapter.
Do note however that using a free Wi-Fi hotspot has loads of security issues. I find it better and safer to connect to a private network.
C. No Internal Hardware to Install
Although I can have an internal wireless adapter for my laptop and desktop, I prefer to use a USB adapter because I am unfamiliar with hardware installations. I am afraid to damage my computer or the wireless adapter card. With a USB adapter, I directly plug it on my laptop using a USB port and no longer worry about installations.
Today, most laptops have built-in adapter cards. So, even if you buy one, you may not be able to install it because of the laptop’s compact configuration. Some laptop models may present it as an option, but cards are costly because laptop manufacturers have their PCI-e cards. In case of a damaged wireless card, opt to use a USB Wi-Fi adapter to connect to the internet instead of buying an internal wireless adapter or a new laptop.
D. No Need for Multiple Outlets
In the past, you would need an outlet to connect one device via Ethernet. Moreover, there’s the need to hardwire a networked printer. With wireless networking,
I only need USB Wi-Fi adapters to access the Internet, and all my gadgets can connect simultaneously. You can do away with multiple outlets on your devices to connect to a wireless router.
E. No Computer Upgrade Required
Even if your desktop or laptop computer does not have a built-in wireless network adapter, you don’t need to buy or upgrade to a newer model. There’s the option of purchasing an inexpensive USB wireless adapter to connect to the Internet. Also, if the built-in wireless card becomes unusable, a USB adapter comes in handy.
In my case, my old internal card became slower. It supports an 11 Mbps bandwidth. Instead of buying a new internal card that can help at least 100 Mbps, I only ended up buying a USB Wi-Fi adapter.
F. Usable on Different Devices
I can use my USB wireless connector with all my computers. If I need to use my desktop computer, I merely need to un-mount and unplug it from my laptop.
Plus, I can even use it on a Mac or a Windows-based computer as long as the device supports USB technology, and the manufacturer has drivers for both operating systems.
I can buy more USB wireless adapters for all the computer devices in my office or household. There is no confusion about which adapter to use because a single USB Wi-Fi connector will match with all operating systems and devices.
G. Highly Portable
Because the USB adapter is small, I can quickly bring it anywhere. As long as the place has wireless connectivity available, I can plug it into my laptop to connect to the internet.
H. Beat Dead Spots
If there are Wi-Fi dead spots around the office or house, a USB port extender widens the signal range. A USB port extender merely is plugged into a device and then connected to a USB Wi-Fi connector.
I. Gain MU-MIMO Speeds Even in Older Machines
MU-MIMO or Multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology reduces wait time of devices to communicate to the router. As more devices connect to the Wi-Fi, the connection becomes slower because the router can only relate to a single device at a time. Gadgets need to wait for their turn to upload and download data from the wireless network. With MU-MIMO, there is a lesser wait time.
Together with an AC adapter, you can bring back older machines to life. An old computer can gain connection speeds quickly through a USB adapter. It will no longer bog down a network because of its slow connection rate. Through the USB wireless connector, you can free up a system so that the other devices can connect to the Internet faster.
14. What Is a PCI-e Wireless Adapter?
Much like a USB adapter, a PCI or PCI-e wireless adapter is plugged into a computer. There is also an option to manually install it by taking apart the machine, which is an option only if you’re highly knowledgeable in building your own PC.
However, if you’re anything like me who finds it nerve-wracking dealing with electrostatic sensitive parts of a computer, then it’s best to leave the installation of a PCI-e wireless adapter to the pros.
15. What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of PCI-e Wireless Adapters?
While the USB adapter has its perks, the PCI-e wireless network adapter also has its advantages. For those using a desktop computer, this adapter is highly advisable. Much like the USB adapter, a PCI-e adapter is plugged into the PCI-e port for installation.
Apart from ease of installation, a PCI-e adapter boosts signal reception, especially if it comes with antennas. A wireless adapter with multiple antennas provides better signal and faster wireless transmission. It can even have Bluetooth capability.
However, if you chose to install the PCI-e wireless adapter in the motherboard of your PC, then it would be difficult to move it once more to another computer as it involves the process of taking out the case apart again.
16. Which Is Better for Me: USB or PCI-e Wireless Adapter?
In my case, I use the PCI-e adapter on my desktop, which is in a permanent location in my room. So that I can get better signal reception and speeds, I reposition the antennas.
As for my laptop, as mentioned earlier, I use a USB adapter because it is portable. Plus, I can connect it to any of my devices to get decent speed.
Again, the choice between a USB or PCI-e Wireless adapter all boils down to your needs. If your aim is portability, then a USB wireless adapter is your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for powerful signal strength and speed, a PCI-e adapter is your best option.
17. How Do I Achieve Maximum Download and Upload Speeds?
Now that I’ve gone through the wireless adapters and their advantages, it’s time to learn about transmission frequency standards which basically dictates the speed of your download and upload.
The IEEE 802.11 standard specifies the wireless communication standard within the different frequency bands. The 802.11b standard is the slowest and provides a maximum data rate of 11Mbit/s only. On the other hand, the 802.11ac is the fastest with a 1300 Mbit/s maximum data rate.
To get the maximum performance from a USB Wi-Fi adapter, its best to consider the speed of your router and internet connection. For instance, if I buy the 802.11g standard with 54 Mbit/s maximum data rate and I have a fast router and connection; I will not be able to take advantage of the maximum speeds.
On the other hand, if my wireless network can broadcast at 5 GHz frequency and I buy the USB adapter that has 2.4 GHz support, I cannot connect to my internet connection at all.
There is an influx of devices that prove useful in our everyday lives. And with the advent of wireless connectivity, it pays to spend time and effort learning about them. Take advantage of the power of the web and determine what you need to know about anything and everything.