Eli5:Is WiFi an actual physical thing? If no, then how do companies charge money for it? If yes, what is it?

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Eli5:Is WiFi an actual physical thing? If no, then how do companies charge money for it? If yes, what is it?

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It’s a service that connects the signal from one computer to another through a complex network of severs, cables, and some wireless signals. It’s a service, so they can charge for it. You could build your own WiFi network if you wanted, but it would be prohibitively expensive if you’re not a major corporation.

But it’s not something you can hold exactly.

Wifi is a channel for information, like a pipe. There are companies that sell infrastructure (the pipe) in the form of wifi cards and routers.

If you get Internet access via the WiFi (water through the pipe) there is another company selling water in the form of Internet packets/bandwidth,

WiFi is a radio signal (or more so a specific code for radios to speak in). A device to speak in this code of course costs money, just like any device costs money, but communication alone is useless.

Having a box in my cabinet which can communicate with my computer is useless unless that box has access to information which my computer wants. For most people, that information is ‘the internet’, which is a rat’s nest of cables and computers encompassing the entire globe. These cables and computers cost money to maintain and are owned by people and companies. When you pay for internet, you pay the company which maintains your connection to the internet, and in exchange they continue to do so.

You pay for internet service from a provider. The components in WiFi capable is an extra cost for some ISP’s ( internet service providers). Ergo it’s formless yes, but you pay for the privilege to use those radio frequencies.

Wifi operates on 2 specific frequencies provided by the FCC as they control which bands can be used. Those frequencies are 2.4ghz(gigahertz) & 5 ghz.

2.4 ghz works with older phones and can be set to exclude those older phones if desired. I think, been a while. You’d accomplish this by setting the modes a/b/g into a exclusion, which i think it’s just b/g but not sure. Its got a wider range and is slower than 5ghz.

5ghz has a shorter range but it’s much faster. You can force your router to only use this type.

Yup, WiFi is information being sent as a light wave to your device’s antenna.

– Your WiFi router lets your devices talk wirelessly.
– Your router then converts that information to another light or electrical signal and sends it down a cable of some type.
– That signal heads to your local hub, which then sends it to other hubs in the world. The signal needs to get boosted and checked for errors along the way, kinda like a car needs to stop at a gas station for maintenance on a long road trip.
– When your signal reaches its destination, it does its thing (like downloads a webpage) and then that server sends information back to you!

All of this happens at a fraction of the speed of light.

All of these cables and devices cost money to make and require electricity to run. There is also code involved to make sure the signal is being sent correct. And your cable provider is negotiating with other companies who also set up and manage this infrastructure elsewhere.

Wifi is a radio signal. You can’t hold it. The internet is basically a bunch of computers sending information very fast through wireless confections and big wires across the ocean

So very much wrong or irrelevant in the answers in this thread.

WiFi is a standard for computers (including your phones) to communicate with each other using radio (_not_ light). You need hardware that implements that standard in order to actually create connections between devices.

The hardware you need is what people charge for.

Trying to keep this more ELI5 than the other answers:

First, I must ask, does “Wi-Fi” and “connection to the Internet” mean the same thing to you? If so, that isn’t correct. The Internet is a bunch of computers around the world connected together. Wi-Fi is nothing more than one of several methods you can use to connect computers together. Think of it as being like a ghost wire that can pass through a couple walls. When you connect to Wi-Fi, all you are doing is plugging a ghost cable between your computer and another one somewhere nearby. That computer *may or may not* be connected to the Internet. If it is, it might share it with you. If not, you won’t get anything. This is why you can be connected to Wi-Fi and still not have an Internet connection sometimes.

Why do you pay a company for Wi-Fi? This could be two different questions.

If you meant, “Why do I pay to be connected to the Internet?”, that’s pretty simple: they own the Internet pipes. When I said the Internet is computers connected across the world, I meant it literally. Physically. There are cables all over the place. Very expensive ones. Someone owns those cables. They had to pay to build them and have to fix them when they break. They also have a limited capacity, so they have to manage who gets to use them, how much, and how often. This all costs a lot of money. If you want to be a part of it, you’re going to have to pay for it. And so, that is why you pay for Internet service.

If you actually meant, “Why does my service provider charge me monthly for Wi-Fi specifically?” (which is indeed a thing some providers do), that’s also pretty simple. In general, when you pay for Internet service, all you need from the provider is the hooked-up cable dug to your house. You will need extra equipment to make any use of it (a modem, a router, and maybe a Wi-Fi access point if you want one) and you’d have to set it up and manage it yourself. OR, if you prefer convenience, you can rent that equipment from the service provider for a monthly fee and they’ll do all the lifting for you. This is probably the preferred option for most customers who have neither the time nor patience to learn how to install, setup, and manage this stuff. But your provider will charge you extra for the convenience.