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Wi-Fi (pronounced /ˈwaɪfaɪ/) is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance. A Wi-Fi enabled device such as a personal computer, video game console, smartphone or digital audio player can connect to the Internet when within range of a wireless network connected to the Internet. The coverage of one or more (interconnected) access points — called hotspots — generally comprises an area the size of a few rooms but may be expanded to cover many square miles, depending on the number of access points with overlapping coverage.

'Wi-Fi' is not a technical term. However, the Alliance has generally enforced its use to describe only a narrow range of connectivity technologies including wireless local area network (WLAN) based on the IEEE 802.11 standards, device to device connectivity [such as Wi-Fi Peer to Peer AKA Wi-Fi Direct], and a range of technologies that support PAN, LAN and even WAN connections. Derivative terms, such as Super Wi-Fi, coined by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to describe proposed networking in the former UHF TV band in the US, may or may not be sanctioned by the alliance. As of November 2010 this was very unclear.

The technical term "IEEE 802.11" has been used interchangeably with Wi-Fi, but over the past few years Wi-Fi has become a superset of IEEE 802.11. Wi-Fi is used by over 700 million people, there are over 750,000 hotspots (places with Wi-Fi Internet connectivity) around the world, and about 800 million new Wi-Fi devices every year. Wi-Fi products that complete the Wi-Fi Alliance interoperability certification testing successfully can use the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED designation and trademark.

Not every Wi-Fi device is submitted for certification to the Wi-Fi Alliance. The lack of Wi-Fi certification does not necessarily imply a device is incompatible with Wi-Fi devices/protocols. If it is compliant or partly compatible, the Wi-Fi Alliance may not object to its description as a Wi-Fi device though technically only the CERTIFIED designation carries their approval.

Wi-Fi certified and compliant devices are installed in many personal computers, video game consoles, MP3 players, smartphones, printers, digital cameras, and laptop computers.

This article focuses on the certification and approvals process and the general growth of wireless networking under the protocols certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. For more on the technologies, see the appropriate articles with IEEE, ANSI, IETF, W3 and ITU prefixes (acronyms for the accredited standards organizations that have created formal technology standards for the protocols by which devices communicate). Non-Wi-Fi-Alliance wireless technologies intended for fixed points such as Motorola Canopy are usually described as fixed wireless. Non-Wi-Fi-Alliance wireless technologies intended for mobile use are usually described as 3G, 4G or 5G, reflecting their origins and promotion by telephone or cellphone companies.


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