What does the term wireless mean?

With smartphones, tablets, and laptops taking over the world, the term wireless has become part of our everyday vernacular. In the most basic and obvious sense, wireless refers to communications sent without wires, but within that broad idea there are more specific uses of the term wireless, from cellular networks to local Wi-Fi networks.

Wireless is a broad term that encompasses all types of technologies and devices that transmit data over the air rather than over a wire, including cellular communications, computer-to-computer networks with wireless adapters, and wireless computing accessories.

Wireless communications travel through the air via electromagnetic waves such as radio frequencies, infrared, and satellites. The FCC regulates the radio frequency bands in this spectrum so they don’t become overcrowded and ensures that wireless devices and services work reliably.

Wireless technology can also mean that the device consumes power wirelessly, but most of the time, wireless technology just means that there are no cables involved in data transfer.

Examples of wireless devices

When someone says the word “wireless,” they could be talking about a number of things (regulated by the FCC or not) that cables don’t include. Cordless phones are wireless devices, as are remote controls for televisions, radios, and GPS systems.

Other examples of wireless devices include cell phones, PDAs, wireless mice, wireless keyboards, wireless routers, wireless network cards, and just about anything else that doesn’t use cables to transmit information.

Wireless chargers are another type of wireless device. Although no data is sent through a wireless charger, it does interact with another device (such as a phone) without using cables.

Wireless networks and Wi-Fi

Network technologies that connect multiple computers and devices together wirelessly (such as in a wireless local area network) also fall under the wireless umbrella. Often, instead of just referring to “wireless” technology for these technologies, the term “Wi-Fi” is used (which is a registered trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance).

Wi-Fi covers technologies that incorporate 802.11 standards, such as 802.11g or 802.11ac network cards and wireless routers.

You can use Wi-Fi to print wirelessly over your network, connect directly to other computers on your network, and if you don’t have Wi-Fi , turn your phone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for the computer and other devices, using mobile phone data to access the Internet.

Learn more about the differences between cellular wireless data and using Wi-Fi for Internet on the go.

Bluetooth is another wireless technology that you are probably familiar with. If your devices are close enough and they support Bluetooth, you can interconnect them to transmit data wirelessly. These devices may include your laptop, phone, printer, mouse, keyboard, hands-free headset, and smart devices (for example, light bulbs and bathroom scales).

the wireless industry

The term wireless by itself is commonly used to refer to the products and services of the cellular telecommunications industry. CTIA, “the Wireless Association,” for example, is made up of wireless carriers (for example, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint), cell phone manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung, and others in the mobile phone market. Different wireless (cellular) protocols and phone standards include CDMA, GSM, EV-DO, 3G, 4G, and 5G.

The term wireless internet most often refers to cellular data, although the phrase can also mean satellite data access.