Wi-Fi is a family of wireless network protocols, based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards, which are commonly used for local area networking of devices and Internet access. Wi-Fi is a trademark of the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance, which restricts the use of the term Wi-Fi Certified to products that successfully complete interoperability certification testing. As of 2010, the Wi-Fi Alliance consisted of more than 375 companies from around the world. As of 2009, Wi-Fi-integrated circuit chips shipped approximately 580 million units yearly. Devices that can use Wi-Fi technologies include desktops and laptops, smartphones and tablets, smart TVs, printers, digital audio players, digital cameras, cars, and drones.
Wi-Fi is potentially more vulnerable to attack than wired networks because anyone within range of a network with a wireless network interface controller can attempt access. To connect to a Wi-Fi network, a user typically needs the network name (the SSID) and a password. The password is used to encrypt Wi-Fi packets to block eavesdroppers. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is intended to protect information moving across Wi-Fi networks and includes versions for personal and enterprise networks. Developing security features of WPA have included stronger protections and new security practices. A QR code can be used to automatically configure a mobile phone's Wi-Fi. Modern phones automatically detect a QR code when taking a picture.
Wi-Fi uses a large number of patents held by many different organizations. In April 2009, 14 technology companies agreed to pay CSIRO $1 billion for infringements on CSIRO patents. This led to Australia labelling Wi-Fi as an Australian invention, though this has been the subject of some controversy. CSIRO won a further $220 million settlement for Wi-Fi patent-infringements in 2012, with global firms in the United States required to pay CSIRO licensing rights estimated at an additional $1 billion in royalties. In 2016, the wireless local area network Test Bed was chosen as Australia's contribution to the exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects held in the National Museum of Australia.
Non-Wi-Fi technologies intended for fixed points, such as Motorola Canopy, are usually described as fixed wireless. Alternative wireless technologies include mobile phone standards, such as 2G, 3G, 4G, and LTE.
Wi-Fi technology may be used to provide local network and Internet access to devices that are within Wi-Fi range of one or more routers that are connected to the Internet. The coverage of one or more interconnected access points (hotspots) can extend from an area as small as a few rooms to as large as many square kilometres. Coverage in the larger area may require a group of access points with overlapping coverage. For example, public outdoor Wi-Fi technology has been used successfully in wireless mesh networks in London. An international example is Fon.
As with other IEEE 802 LANs, stations come programmed with a globally unique 48-bit MAC address (often printed on the equipment) so that each Wi-Fi station has a unique address. The MAC addresses are used to specify both the destination and the source of each data packet. Wi-Fi establishes link-level connections, which can be defined using both the destination and source addresses. On the reception of a transmission, the receiver uses the destination address to determine whether the transmission is relevant to the station or should be ignored. A network interface normally does not accept packets addressed to other Wi-Fi stations.
In infrastructure mode, which is the most common mode used, all communications go through a base station. For communications within the network, this introduces an extra use of the airwaves but has the advantage that any two stations that can communicate with the base station can also communicate through the base station, which enormously simplifies the protocols.
To reach requirements for wireless LAN applications, Wi-Fi has higher power consumption compared to some other standards designed to support wireless personal area network (PAN) applications. For example, Bluetooth provides a much shorter propagation range between 1 and 100m and so in general have a lower power consumption. Other low-power technologies such as ZigBee have fairly long range, but much lower data rate. The high power consumption of Wi-Fi makes battery life in some mobile devices a concern.
Wireless routers integrate a Wireless Access Point, Ethernet switch, and internal router firmware application that provides IP routing, NAT, and DNS forwarding through an integrated WAN-interface. A wireless router allows wired and wireless Ethernet LAN devices to connect to a (usually) single WAN device such as a cable modem, DSL modem, or optical modem. A wireless router allows all three devices, mainly the access point and router, to be configured through one central utility. This utility is usually an integrated web server that is accessible to wired and wireless LAN clients and often optionally to WAN clients. This utility may also be an application that is run on a computer, as is the case with as Apple's AirPort, which is managed with the AirPort Utility on macOS and iOS.