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How Wireless Internet Works on a Laptop PC

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 7/18/2009

Just because you are able to connect to a wireless network does not mean you can get an internet connection from it, too. Learn what is required and how it works in order to better understand internet connectivity over a wireless network.

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    Wireless Internet

    Have you ever wondered just how wireless internet works on a laptop? This article will take some of the mystery out of internet connections that seemingly come out of thin air, and hopefully you will understand a little more about security, too. The internet is not free, even if you can get a ‘free’ connection wirelessly via your laptop.

    Most current laptops have wireless adapters built into them. These adapters let the computers communicate with wireless routers, similar to the way a radio picks up a radio signal. The closer you are to the transmitter of that signal, the better the reception will be. Also like radio, there is a limited distance one can be away from the transmitter before the signal can no longer be picked up.

    A wireless network connection is not that different from a wired connection, at least as far as the user is concerned. You can do most anything on a wireless network that you can on a wired one, with the main differences being stuff going on in the background in Windows that most people would not have a clue about. Think of a wireless network connection as an invisible cable running from the router to your computer.

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    The Basics

    In order for you to get a wireless Internet connection on your laptop, you must first establish a wireless network connection. This means that you need a wireless adapter in your laptop and also need to have an available wireless router transmitting a signal for your laptop to receive. When you go into the Wireless Network Connection options (Start – Settings – Control Panel – Network Connections – Wireless Network Connection) in Windows XP, it will show a list of all the transmitters that your computer recognizes. Each item on that list represents a piece of hardware with a network connection directly plugged into it so the router can then convert that connection into a wireless signal that it sends out.

    If the wireless transmitter is secured, you must have a password of some kind in order to establish a connection, otherwise it won’t work. If the transmitter is not secured, it should allow your computer to connect to it. This lack of security often results in people giving out free Internet connectivity to anyone within range of their transmitter. I have a couple of friends who are able to get signals in parts of their neighborhood because someone who lives nearby never bothered to password-protect their wireless network, and thus anyone can connect to it.

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    In a nutshell, you need two things in order to get a wireless internet connection on your laptop – an available wireless connection that is also connected to the internet. Just because you can connect to a router does not automatically mean you will have internet availability. The router still needs to be connected to the Internet, often by cable or DSL modem, in order for you to get to the internet via that wireless network connection.