Can I Still Get Wi-Fi If I Don't Have a Broadband Connection?

By Melanie Jo Triebel

Some forms of Wi-Fi allow you to work from anywhere.
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As cellular and wireless technology becomes increasingly popular and pervasive, many are left wondering how to get this technology and what is needed to connect a home computer to the Internet, with or without wires. The question of whether a broadband Internet connection is necessary for Wi-Fi can be particularly puzzling because the answer is it depends.

What Is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a common shorthand for a form of Internet connectivity or networking delivered without using wires. The technology uses radio waves to provide access, with technology very similar to that used in cellular phones. Wi-Fi can involve portable web access, in-home broadband access or home wireless networking. Contrary to common belief, the term does not stand for "wireless fidelity." The term "Wi-Fi" is trademarked by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

In-Home Wi-Fi

It is possible to connect to the Internet in your home using entirely wireless technology. In that case, your Wi-Fi will not be Internet without a broadband connection: your Wi-Fi is itself a broadband connection. Like other forms of broadband Internet, you will only be able to obtain in-home Wi-Fi if there is a service provider offering coverage in your area. If so, the speed of wireless internet is generally comparable to that of a DSL or cable modem connection.

In-Home Networking

Wi-Fi can also be used to create an in-home network connection. Using a wireless router, a user can take an existing Internet signal and route it to one or multiple computers within their home using local wireless technology. To do so, however, there must be an existing broadband Internet connection to which the Wi-Fi router is attached. Thus, in-home wireless network requires a broadband connection.

Portable Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi technology can also allow users to access the Internet on the go, connecting a laptop, PDA or other device to the Internet from various locations outside the home. Wi-Fi can be accessed anywhere there is a connection or "hotspot," often found in airports, coffee shops, stores, and restaurants. Many such spots are publicly accessible either for free or for a fee. Additionally, customers can subscribe to a carrier's plan, allowing access to all hotspots serviced by that carrier. Depending on the carrier, such Wi-Fi is available as part of a home broadband subscription, and as a separate plan.