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A reality of the modern age is that a good Wi-Fi plan is integral to our way of life. As our lifeline to the world of the web, Wi-Fi is crucial for work, education and entertainment. We use it on our phones, our computers, and our TVs. When it works you don’t even notice that it’s there, but bad internet is a curse you wouldn’t wish on anyone. But what is Wi-Fi? How does it work? And how do you find a suitable Wi-Fi plan?
Let's start with the basics. While everyone uses the name “Wi-Fi” these days, it’s a little known fact that the term itself is actually not an abbreviation of the technology used. The term “Wi-Fi” was created as a marketing term for wireless networking in 1999. Back then it was a play on the word “Hi-Fi”, meaning high fidelity audio. Since then it’s spread to become the universal term for internet connectivity. So now that you’re sorted for you next trivia night, let’s look at what it really is.
Wi-Fi is not actually the internet. Rather, it is the ability for one device to wirelessly communicate to another device. The most common scenario is that a phone or computer would use Wi-Fi to connect to a wireless router, which in turn provides internet access.
It’s the framework for creating a local network of devices that can all communicate to each other, from a router, to a phone, to a printer. Technical jargon aside, when companies talk about Wi-Fi plans, they’re usually referring to the internet access and wireless connectivity rolled into one easy bundle.
Rather than using cables and cords, Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit information1. These waves operate at specific frequencies, most commonly 5GHz and 2.4GHz. Each frequency has several channels that wireless devices can operate on to avoid overcrowding the network and slowing down the connection for all devices (but we’re sure you’ve noticed that this can still be an issue on busy networks).
Unhindered, the range of these networks can be up to 100 metres, but barriers like buildings and other objects can reduce this distance. Within a house, a range of about 10-35m is more typical, due to walls and other appliances interfering with the signal. The size of the antenna and the frequency of the broadcast can also affect the range of the signal, with higher frequencies like 5GHz having a shorter effective range than lower frequencies like 2.4GHz.
So now you know the history and the workings, but if you’re reading this you’re no doubt keen to get up and running with a new internet or Wi-Fi plan of your own. The good news is that getting set up is relatively easy, but you will need to do a little research to ensure that you get a plan that’s suitable for you. The first thing to consider when researching Wi-Fi plans is where you’ll be using the internet.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is where you’ll be using the internet the most. For most people this will be at home (or another stationary location like an office or café). In this situation, you may be interested in a standard broadband plan, which we cover in more detail below. If you like to work on the go, however, you may need your internet to travel with you. In this situation, you may want to explore a mobile broadband plan.
Mobile broadband operates in a similar way to your smartphone’s internet connection. It uses the same 4G and 5G networks and is very similar to a regular phone plan. You will, however, be paying more for the data you use, as these plans are often priced on data allowance instead.
Rather than using a router, mobile Wi-Fi plans use a pocket-sized modem colloquially referred to as a ‘dongle’, which acts as a mobile hotspot. You can sign up to a plan that comes with a small battery powered modem, or by getting a SIM-only plan you can use an existing phone or modem instead.
If you’re looking to set up a home or office Wi-Fi network, you have a few options to consider for your broadband plan. Broadband refers to wide-bandwidth data transmission and encompasses a variety of methods for delivering internet to your home. All forms of broadband require a Wi-Fi modem for wireless internet capabilities. Most plans will give you the option of receiving a new modem when you sign up, or you can use an existing modem with your new Wi-Fi plan. Where you live and your local infrastructure will influence the broadband available to you.
With much of Australia connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN), it’s highly likely that the broadband plan you choose will bring internet to your home via the NBN. There are a variety of different NBN technologies which exist, including:
The final (and most important) thing to consider is how much data you’ll need and what kind of download speed you want. These requirements will vary greatly depending on how many people will be using the network and how much data they will be using.
A small single person apartment will generally need less data than a family household with kids. Multiple people streaming entertainment or gaming at once will strain lower end plans, so this is an important factor to consider when comparing Wi-Fi plans.
That way you won’t have to spend the next month complaining that you only got halfway through the latest episode of your new bingeing obsession before your internet dropped out.
To recap, here’s some helpful tips to consider before comparing Wi-Fi plans:
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be ready to explore Wi-Fi plans.
At iSelect we make finding a suitable internet plan easy. Using our service you can compare internet plans online from our range of providers, and we’ll even handle the admin of switching and signing up for you. Click here to start comparing, or call our friendly team on 13 19 20.
Last updated: 14/10/2020