Glossary of Wireless Networking Terms

access points —These are centrally located devices that transmit data to computers in a network. In an 802.11 WLAN (wireless local-area network), an access point is the hub through which different devices using the network communicate.

gateway—A complex internetworking device that converts data from one protocol to another. In addition, gateways transfer data among networks that use different communications protocols. The gateway actually deconstructs the information from one service and restructures it in the other network's protocol format. Gateways include all hardware and software used to link dissimilar NOSes (network operating systems) or to link LANs (local-area networks) to mainframes or WANs (wide-area networks). Gateways also appear in email systems to convert messages among services using different email protocols.

hotspot—Hotspots are locations that provide wireless Internet service via a wireless access point. Hotspots are usually in populated public areas, such as a town square or downtown area, as well as at hotels and airports. In some instances, users may have to pay for access, whereas there are other hotspots that provide free access.

hub—A device that connects two or more network devices so they can communicate. In other words, it's a point on the network where multiple devices connect to each other.

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers)—An association of engineers, scientists, and students founded in 1963. The IEEE has added developments to the computer and electronics industry, most notably the IEEE 802 standards for LANs (local-area networks).

router—The part of a communications network that receives transmissions (information) and forwards them to their destinations using the shortest route available. Data may travel through multiple routers on the way to its destination. Keep in mind that a router is a more complex and slightly slower mechanism than a switch; not only does it govern the flow of signals within a network, but it also requires much more knowledge about the network in order to effectively determine the best route.

server—The control computer on a LAN (local-area network). The server controls software, access to printers, and other parts of the network. The server is usually accompanied by workstations that share the main system's resources. A network may have more than one server. In addition, a server may be dedicated, meaning its sole purpose is to be the server, or nondedicated so you can use it for basic computing tasks, as well as setting it up to act as the server.

SSID (Service Set Identifier)—A unique identifier that refers to a specific WLAN (wireless local-area network). No device can communicate on a WLAN unless it can provide the proper SSID. An SSID is added to the beginning of every packet sent over a wireless network, but because an SSID is easily detected, it doesn't really provide a lot of security so much as it provides a method of keeping traffic confined to a specific WLAN.

switch—A deeply embedded piece of physical circuitry that governs signal flow within a network. When the switch is open, it lets the signal flow through; if the switch is closed, the flow stops, and the connection to the circuit is broken. On a network, the switch is a device that forwards and filters packets of information between LAN (local-area network) segments, or nodes. When traffic backs up or jams on a network, it's because data is being forced to wander around the entire network looking for its ultimate destination. In fact, it's the switch (when one is installed) that helps a network stay on task when it receives a lot of traffic. In that sense, a switch corrects traffic problems within a network and streamlines data so it transmits directly from its origin to its destination. A switch can accomplish this partly by remembering the addresses of each of the nodes on the network and anticipating the data's destination. By having the nodes on a network connected to a switch, it's possible to see an immediate increase in overall performance. On bigger networks, there is often more than one switch to connect different portions of the system.

WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)—WEP is a security algorithm in the 802.11 wireless standard that's specifically designed for wireless networking. WEP uses RSA Data Security's RC4 stream cipher to encrypt a transmission with either a 40-bit or 128-bit key.

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