Contributor(s): Lior Baruch

Wireless is a term used to describe telecommunications in which electromagnetic waves (rather than some form of wire) carry the signal over part or all of the communication path. Some monitoring devices, such as intrusion alarms, employ acoustic waves at frequencies above the range of human hearing; these are also sometimes classified as wireless.

The first wireless transmitters went on the air in the early 20th century using radiotelegraphy (Morse code). Later, as modulation made it possible to transmit voices and music via wireless, the medium came to be called "radio." With the advent of television, fax, data communication, and the effective use of a larger portion of the spectrum, the term "wireless" has been resurrected.

Common examples of wireless equipment in use today include:

  • Cellular phones and pagers -- provide connectivity for portable and mobile applications, both personal and business

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) -- allows drivers of cars and trucks, captains of boats and ships, and pilots of aircraft to ascertain their location anywhere on earth

  • Cordless computer peripherals -- the cordless mouse is a common example; keyboards and printers can also be linked to a computer via wireless

  • Cordless telephone sets -- these are limited-range devices, not to be confused with cell phones

  • Home-entertainment-system control boxes -- the VCR control and the TV channel control are the most common examples; some hi-fi sound systems and FM broadcast receivers also use this technology

  • Remote garage-door openers -- one of the oldest wireless devices in common use by consumers; usually operates at radio frequencies

  • Two-way radios -- this includes Amateur and Citizens Radio Service, as well as business, marine, and military communications

  • Baby monitors -- these devices are simplified radio transmitter/receiver units with limited range

  • Satellite television -- allows viewers in almost any location to select from hundreds of channels

  • Wireless LANs or local area networks -- provide flexibility and reliability for business computer users

Wireless technology is rapidly evolving, and is playing an increasing role in the lives of people throughout the world. In addition, ever-larger numbers of people are relying on the technology directly or indirectly. (It has been suggested that wireless is overused in some situations, creating a social nuisance.) More specialized and exotic examples of wireless communications and control include:

  • Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) -- a digital mobile telephone system used in Europe and other parts of the world; the de facto wireless telephone standard in Europe

  • General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) -- a packet-based wireless communication service that provides continuous connection to the Internet for mobile phone and computer users

  • Enhanced Data GSM Environment (EDGE) -- a faster version of the Global System for Mobile (GSM) wireless service

  • Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) -- a broadband, packet-based system offering a consistent set of services to mobile computer and phone users no matter where they are located in the world

  • Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) -- a set of communication protocols to standardize the way that wireless devices, such as cellular telephones and radio transceivers, can be used for Internet access

  • i-Mode -- the world's first "smart phone" for Web browsing, first introduced in Japan; provides color and video over telephone sets

Wireless can be divided into:

  • Fixed wireless -- the operation of wireless devices or systems in homes and offices, and in particular, equipment connected to the Internet via specialized modems
  • Mobile wireless -- the use of wireless devices or systems aboard motorized, moving vehicles; examples include the automotive cell phone and PCS (personal communications services)
  • Portable wireless -- the operation of autonomous, battery-powered wireless devices or systems outside the office, home, or vehicle; examples include handheld cell phones and PCS units
  • IR wireless -- the use of devices that convey data via IR (infrared) radiation; employed in certain limited-range communications and control systems


This was last updated in April 2006

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