Wi-Fi works by using radio signals to communicate between devices. Devices use radio waves in the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz range to connect to one another and network together. Computers and other devices must be equipped with a wireless network interface controller to connect to other devices. Once a connection is established, devices transmit carrier waves to deliver packets of data across the communication channel that has been established.
Access points, also known as hotspots, are centralized devices that broadcast the Wi-Fi radio signals out to potential clients such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. These devices provide a way for any connected devices to communicate through software, as well as connect to the Internet if the device has access to it.
Radio signals from Wi-Fi devices can reach up to 150 feet, with devices using the Wireless-N standards reaching up to 300 feet or more outdoors. Smartphones can also broadcast a portable Wi-Fi signal that allows client devices to connect to the Internet through the cellular phone's data network, depending on the carrier.
Wi-Fi is a synonym for WLAN, or wireless local area network, and is trademarked by the Wi-Fi Alliance trade association. It is also used to describe any device that uses the IEEE 802.11 wireless networking standard.