Understanding Connection

Back in the days when a car phone meant your phone was built into a car, cell towers actually carried an analog signal, much like a radio signal but at a different frequency. This was the first generation, or 1G, system. The next wave of technology was 2G. Instead of using an analog signal, 2G networks are digital, and most (but not all) carriers started settling on the GSM standard. Verizon and Sprint opted for CDMA instead.

Today most networks offer higher-speed 3G networks of various names, and some are even starting to roll out 4G networks. Once you've selected a phone and a carrier, you don't really need to understand all the technical specs of the various wireless technologies and how they're marketed, but you do need to understand the basics. Other than voice, there are four basic ways your phone connects to signals. Those are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and data.


Wi-Fi signals are generally the fastest way to connect to the Internet. This is the same technology that connects laptops and other wireless devices to networks. It's fast but short range, and it's not the same signal they send over cell towers. In order to connect to a Wi-Fi network, you have to be within range of the signal, and you have to be authorized to use the network.

Some bookstores, fast food chains, and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi access networks to anyone within range of the signal. Connecting is easy. Just go to the Android home screen, and then to Settings > Wireless & networks > Wi-Fi settings. Check the boxes to turn on Wi-Fi and receive notification when an open Wi-Fi network is within range.

If you have a Wi-Fi network set up through work or home that is password encrypted, you can use the Wi-Fi settings menu to add the SSID and password to your phone.

The clear advantage to Wi-Fi is speed. You must be connected to Wi-Fi in order to upload video, and watching a video is much faster with Wi-Fi than with the other signals. The disadvantage is distance. Chances are that you're not going to be within range of a Wi-Fi network all day or even most of the day, so whenever you're not within range, you should turn off your Wi-Fi signal in order to save your batteries.

A big consideration with Wi-Fi is security. If you're using an encrypted connection, this isn't as much of a problem, but that convenient, free, open Wi-Fi access point at the coffee shop may in theory expose your phone to unwanted eavesdropping.

Wi-Fi security usually involves some sort of password protection to access the network. An older, less secure method is WEP. If you have a choice in the matter, avoid WEP. It's very easy to crack. A more secure method is WPA or WPA2. Most personal networks, like your router at home, can be set to use WPA-PSK (pre-shared key). This is a fancy way of saying that you have to type in a password or passphrase to get access to the network.

Businesses that want to sell or restrict access to their network use a form of WPA-enterprise. This type of connection usually requires you to log in when you open your first web page, and it compares your username with a list of authorized users. In some cases, you don't actually have to log in, but you do have to click something to agree to the location's terms of service. This is still part of WPA security.

If you aren't required to log into anything, you don't need to click OK to agree to the access rules, and you don't need a password to get onto the network—chances are that you're using an open Wi-Fi access point. A skilled hacker may be able to intercept your signal. Unless you've installed security software, avoid entering passwords or sending sensitive information on open Wi-Fi networks.

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