Coming to a Dictionary Near You: Wi-Fi

DictionaryEarlier this month Merriam-Webster officially added nearly 100 words to its Eleventh Edition Collegiate Dictionary. An important entry is Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi (certification mark) —used to certify the interoperability of wireless computer networking devices
The dictionary definition above really doesn't tell much about this important word. When talking about Wi-Fi (short for Wireless-Fidelity), people are referring to the most popular kind of wireless networking. Wi-Fi uses radio waves to communicate, so Wi-Fi signals can go through walls and floors. Wi-Fi networks have access points, like a Linksys Wireless Router or an Apple Airport Extreme. Wi-Fi enabled devices can usually access the network from a few hundred feet away. The area around an access point where you can receive a signal is called a hotspot. Many coffee shops and bookstores offer free hotspots to their customers. Before the trademark of Wi-Fi was set, this method of wireless networking was called by its much more formal name, IEEE 802.11. Still curious about what Wi-Fi is? Then read a couple dozen definitions from Google.

Many handhelds feature built-in Wi-Fi. There are also add-on expansion cards that add Wi-Fi to Palm and Windows Mobile devices. With a Wi-Fi enabled handheld, you can browse the internet, send and receive email, and access file servers wirelessly. Handhelds can even synchronize using Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi adds to the price of a handheld and quickly drains batteries when activated.

It doesn't appear that Bluetooth was added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary. Bluetooth is another kind of wireless networking. Bluetooth has a much shorter range, uses less power, and is slower than Wi-Fi. Some fancy handhelds have both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, like my Palm LifeDrive. It's important to note that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are not compatible with each other. Read pages 5 and 6 of the Southeast Initiatives Regional Technology in Education Consortium's NewsWire: Using Handheld Technologies in Schools for an overview of wireless networking.

Wi-Fi was added to the Collegiate Dictionary along with other entries like brain freeze, chick flick, and hazmat. These concepts are probably not as complicated to understand as wireless networking, however.