Everyone with a smartphone knows about Wifi. If nothing else, you know it’s what happens when you get your phone connected with a Wifi network you see a substantial change in the speed of your internet, the reason is the Wifi connection you got connected with is faster than the connection you have on your sim card.
Do you know what does it take to connect your phone with a Wifi network and give you substantial browsing speed? There is a lot going on to make that connection go on. While we’re not going to discuss everything in detail and technical like the software stack or the radio interface hardware, but we are going to talk about the things as users we should know.
Don’t worry, this’ll be fun, and of course a little more familiar with the android device you are using !
What is Wifi?
Wifi refers to any local access wireless network that is based on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11 standards. Devices on a Wifi network transfer data through the airwaves using either a 2.4 GHz Ultra high frequency or 5 GHz Super high frequency.
A Wifi setup comprises an Internet gateway (generally a modem) and an access point (router). The modem is connected to the Internet (a LAN connection), and the access point has a devoted connection to the modem. What the access point does is, filter the things you send and receive from the Internet and dispense them wirelessly to the android device or any other device connected with the Wifi and made the request.
Why do I see so many available Wifi connections on my phone?
When you start the Wifi on your phone, you see a list of every access point you’ve ever connected to, as well as every access point in range that broadcasts its presence. This can be a bit confusing for the reason that the an open network you connected to in Delhi in a Café Coffee Day will be listed, but you’re not likely going to be able to connect if you’re in hyderabad. It gets even more confusing when access points are named MGMT512 instead of “Mumbai Management Institute.”
If you tap the scan button on your phone it will show you which access points are in range (and how strong the signal is based on the little icon) and which ones you have saved but are out of range. You can also delete old connections that you never want to use again just with a long tap on the connection name and then tapping on “Forget”.
When you setup a Wifi network you have option to decide if the name of your Wi-Fi is broadcast and visible or not. If the SSID is not broadcast, it won’t be visible in your list and you’ll have to setup a connection yourself.
Basic Wifi terminology (what do all those letters and numbers mean?)
Like anything that can get a little technical, when you’re talking about Wi-fi networks you’re going to run into a lot of letters that stand for something in terms of Wi-Fi, for example:
- 11 a/b/g/n/ac:802.11 denotes to the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11 specifications for wireless networking on the 2.4 GHz, 3.6 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz frequencies. Any gadget that’s Wi-fi certified will follow these standards. The letter you see after 802.11 stands for a particular protocol that defines things like range and speed. Normally speaking, the “higher” the letter, the better is the potential range and speed of that connection. If you’ve bought a newer phone, it probably supports at least 802.11 n, and possible 802.11 ac. Most of the modern access points support them, too.
- Wi-fi: A trademarked term for a piece of wireless LAN instrument that supports the IEEE 802.11 arrangement. It’s a play on Hi-Fi, a term that stands for high fidelity and was popular for audio systems used years ago. If you see the word Wifi or WiFi or Wi-Fi on anything, that means it meets the standards and will work with other device that contains the Wi-fi trademarked name. Believe it or not, there are fakes out there that don’t meet things like transmission power necessities.
- Access point: An access point (when in terms of Wi-fi) is a device that allows other Wi-fi devices to connect to a wireless network. It can be an outside device, or it can be compacted into one piece of machine with a router, or even have a modem added to it.
- SSID: The service set identifier. It’s a human-readable string that can be up to 32 bytes long, and used as the network name you see in the list of Wi-fi access points on your phone when you search for the available wi-fi spots.
- MAC address: Short for Media Access Control address, is a unique identifier allotted to any networking gear by the manufacturer. While a MAC address is assigned to the hardware and is permanent by nature.
- WPS: Wi-fi Protected Setup is a security standard designed to help individual users having a secure wireless network without actually poking their nose into more technical things to adjust everything manually.
- Wifi Direct: A way of getting one Android device to talk to another using Wi-fi, but avoiding having to go through an Access Point.
Secured Wi-fi vs. unsecured Wi-fi
Secured Wi-Fi are those networks which require you to enter a password to access through, on the other hand unsecured Wi-fi are those open networks which any one can connect and use while in the range. Open or unsecured Wi-Fi networks are more vulnerable in terms of security and anybody can use it illegally.
You probably want to secure your Wifi network at home. That means you set up an encrypted password on your access point, and any and every device that wants to connect has to enter the same password for access. The security algorithm used for these connections may be WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA (Wifi Protected Access) or WPA2 (a second generation and more secure version of WPA). Like everything else in the IEEE 802.11 specifications, security algorithms get revamped and improved. When security vulnerabilities were found in the WEP protocol, WPA was designed as a quick patch that all devices able to use WEP could also use. WPA2 came later, and is more secure, but some very old equipment may not support it.
Andorid phones supports WPA2 and 802.1xEAP, and that’s the suggested way to secure any Wi-fi network. If you’re setting up a Wifi network yourself, you’ll want to get into a little more detail of the different security protocols and algorithms available, using WPA2 with a strong AES encrypted key is considered as safe until a professional hacker is after getting into your network.
What is WPS?
WPS stands for Wifi Protected Setup. The WPS allows users who don’t know a lot about wireless security to let their hardware set up automatically. When it works, it’s very easy and as secure as setup by a professional networking professional. The only problem with getting through it is that different manufacturers have different ways of starting WPS, and it’s a little clunky.
There are four main methods to use WPS to add a device to a network — the PIN method, the push-button method, the NFC method and the USB method. NFC and USB are optional ways to set things up, however, Android devices generally use the Push Button or PIN method techniques, but in theory could support NFC and USB as well.
To use WPS, it should be enabled on the router you want to connect to. Most Android users will then push a button on their router, then tap the WPS Push Button from the menu in the Wifi settings of their phones. Otherwise, you can connect to your routers control panel interface and use the PIN method.
The Advanced Wifi Setup Menu on Android
If you want connect to a wireless network that doesn’t broadcast it’s SSID or needs special settings you will have to manually add a connection. There’s nothing complicated in here, but in order to connect to a SSID that’s hidden, you just enter the name of the network and choose the type of security it’s using. The rest goes the same way as connecting to a network that’s not hidden.
Under the advanced options setting you will find two new options: Proxy settings and IP settings. On Android, you should know the Proxy Hostname and port to setup a connection that uses one. It might also happen that the router you’re connecting to may have a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server that assigns all the needed network info automatically when you are trying to connect to the this network, but, if it doesn’t, you’ll have to enter the information manually.
While you’ll hardly ever need to set your IP address settings manually, there’s nothing wrong with knowing a few more things beforehand. Let’s discuss it further.
- IP address: This is the IP (Internet Protocol) address you want your Android to use. It has to be in the right network range (private IPv4 networks in general use 10.0.0.X, 172.16.0.X, or 192.168.X.X) and use an available number.
- Gateway: This is the IP address of a network node that acts can act as a router or proxy server both on the internal portion of the network as well as connecting it to the Internet in general. When you type http://www.jetking.cominto your browser, by default the request goes to the gateway which then directs the IP traffic so that the jetking website appears in your browser window.
- Network prefix length: This is the same thing as the subnet mask — a way to ensure that all devices on the network have the same network prefix.
- DNS: These are labeled 1 and 2. DNS is the Internet’s phone book. DNS servers translate a URL that we can read, into an IP address that computers can read more effortlessly. There are various options you can use here if you like.
Once you have everything filled in right into the advanced settings menu of your phone’s wifi settings, press the connect button and you’ll be able to sign in and be using that Wifi network.
The advanced Wifi settings menu
This is one of those things that is very different from device to device. We’ll take a look at the settings and options you’re most likely to see here, and discuss them one by one so we all know what they mean.
- Wi-fi notifications: If you want to see a notification telling you there is a Wi-fi network available, you need this to be enabled.
- Internet availability: A setting using these words as a rule means that the Wi-fi network must have access to the Internet before your Android phone will connect to it. If this is disabled, you can connect to Wi-fi networks that do not have an active Internet connection.
- List sorting: Here you can choose to see your Wi-fi network list by availability and signal strength or alphabetically.
- Keep Wi-fi on when screen is off: This does unerringly what it says it does, but the significant part is knowing why you would want it enabled or disabled. If you set Wi-fi to shut off when the screen goes off, your phone have to use the cellular connection for any syncing or push messages. This incurs data charges of course. This uses more battery than Wi-fi. Normally, you want to keep Wi-fi on here.
- Allow Wi-fi scanning: This lets location services scan for active wireless access points to determine your phone’s location. Doing so can get your position quicker and draws less power than using GPS alone, but for the sake of privacy you can disable it here.
- Avoid poor connections: This switches you off of a Wi-fi network once the signal gets very feeble. It will either connect you to another Wi-fi network or back to 3G/4G network your data provider provides you when it stops the connection.
- Battery saving while on Wi-fi: This setting actually works! What it does is decelerate or stop your wireless radio’s network scanning. When your phone vigorously scans for available connections, it uses more power and your phone’s battery drains faster. The ability to change this setting is something that custom ROM builders have done since the G1, but now most vendors include it right in the advanced menu settings. If you disabled Wi-fi scanning for location, you might as well enable this and maximize every milliampere from your Android phone’s battery.
Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be course material for the TCP/IP portion of the MCSE exam, for that you need to read course books and probably some practical of live networks and servers. This is just a basic explanation to make you aware of everything you’re likely to come across at one time or another while using Wifi on your Android.
While most of the time you can just enter a password and start using internet on your android phone, but, it’s always a good idea to have a little knowledge about everything you’re seeing and especially the technology you are using.
Knowledge is power !
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