What's all this wireless and WIFI then?
To make things simpler let's be clear up front: Wireless, Wifi, Wi-fi, WLAN, Wireless LAN, and IEEE 802.11 are all the same thing. There is quite a good explanation on Wikipedia of the history of the different terms if you want the full details.
For our purposes they are just different ways of referring to networking standards that use radio waves instead of standard network cables. They are all designed for local networks, that is networks contained within a very limited area. If you are after something to cover multiple office blocks, or something wider, then you need to look at an alternate solution, such as Wi-max or 3G.
If you are looking for a wireless network for your house or office then a wireless network should be fine.
Wireless networks come in four main flavours: wireless a, wireless b, wireless g, and wireless n. Unfortunately each manufacturer has tried to put their own slant on it, so confusingly they often use many different names for exactly the same things.
Below, we've tried to break this down for you:
|Offical standard name||Common name||Also known as|
|IEEE 802.11a||Wireless a||none (not very popular this one)|
|IEEE 802.11b||Wireless b||11b|
|IEEE 802.11g||Wireless g||11g, 54G, Super G, Mimo, MIMOg, 54Mbps|
|IEEE 802.11n||Wireless n||802.11n, draft n, draft n1, N draft 2, 11n, n draft 1, n draft 2.0, draft 802.11n|
As you can see the wireless a standard wasn't very popular for wireless routers, certainly not those routers that were affordable to the average user anyway. Wireless b was the first major standard that was adopted and there is still a lot of this network kit out there, however you shouldn't buy this now. It has been superceded by wireless g and that in turn by wireless n. If you have a choice you should only be looking at wireless n router.
We've produced a separate article explaining the real-world differences between the wireless standards.