What does WiFi mean? (and other basics to know)

Learn what WiFi acronyms and terms really mean — and why they matter — in our new series, “WiFi 101”

Editor’s note: This is the first post in a new series, “WiFi 101,” where we’ll translate internet acronyms and terms into plain English — so you can spend less time deciphering jargon and more time staying connected. Today, we’re covering some WiFi basics. Next time, we’ll break(down) the internet and how it works. Have a term that’s got you stumped? Email us at blog@eero.com and we’ll add the most popular ones to the list.

WiFi is everywhere, but understanding how it works can be as confusing as the character list of “Game of Thrones.” And as soon as it stops working, you’re expected to have a degree in computer science to get to the bottom of the problem. Let’s face it: even the most tech-savvy of us struggle to differentiate between LAN, WAN, and WLAN.

We think WiFi should not only be accessible, but also easy to understand. So, we’re cutting the jargon and explaining some wireless networking terms and acronyms in the way we wish they’d been explained to us.

What does WiFi mean?

Stands for: IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence

Actually means: The original standard for high-speed wireless internet

Despite common belief, the term WiFi isn’t an acronym — it doesn’t actually stand for “wireless fidelity” or “wireless fiber.” In 1999, the branding firm Interbrand picked WiFi as a catchier, more consumer-friendly alternative to the existing name: IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence. Runners-up included “Trapeze,” “Hornet,” and “Dragonfly,” which don’t seem befitting of the technology that’s become so crucial to everyday life. Over the past seventeen years, faster standards have emerged — such as the latest 802.11ac standard used by eero — WiFi has simply become synonymous with any wireless networking.

What is an ISP?

Stands for: Internet Service Provider

Actually means: The company that enables your Netflix binging

AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner. You’ve probably heard of at least one of these Internet Service Providers (ISPs). ISPs are like major highways that bridge together cities, states, and countries. These “highways” transport data to cities, and then smaller and smaller “roads” transfer that data to neighborhoods and individual homes. High-speed internet provided by ISPs, as well as this network of information highways, allows us to stream movies on demand, game with people across the country, and receive emails from distant relatives within seconds.

What is an SSID?

Stands for: Service Set Identifier

Actually means: A wireless network’s name

Every WiFi network has a name that differentiates it from other networks nearby. This name is called an SSID, and you need it to connect new devices, such as a Nest Thermostat or a friend’s iPhone, to your network. If you have a traditional wireless router, you can sometimes find your SSID on the back — it’s usually cumbersome, long, and alphanumeric. To make this name easier on the eyes, you can rename it something creative — like “Pretty Fly for a WiFi” or “The LAN Before Time.” With eero, customize your network SSID and password right from the app.

What is a LAN?

Stands for: Local Area Network

Actually means: A personal network, like the one in your home or at your favorite coffee shop

A “local area” can be a house, an office building, a coffee shop, and even Everest Base Camp, and the “network” refers to the connection between two or more devices within this area. Your LAN is like a small town where everyone knows each other, and devices within it can easily communicate. But to outsiders, your LAN is but a single dot on the map of the internet. WiFi creates what’s called a “Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN),” and allows all of your devices to connect to the internet without cables. Instead, a host (like your router) connects to the internet via a modem. That host then facilitates a network connection between devices (like your laptop) wirelessly.

What is WAN?

Stands for: Wide Area Network

Actually means: Your connection to the internet

A WAN connects multiple networks (LANs) together, usually over a geographic region. A WAN might be limited to a private space or accessible to the public. The most well-known public WAN is the internet, which spans the entire world. In your home, you connect to the internet via your ISP, which creates a private WAN that allows all the devices within your home to send and receive data over the internet.