Whether 5G or Wi-Fi, wireless adapters work by providing wireless transmission components not included in the host device. These will usually include a transmitter or receiver. The former converts data into a radio wave. The signal will then be broadcast to the LAN via the transmitter. Incoming data will be converted by the receiver.
Meanwhile, models providing a high-speed cellular data connection will include a SIM card, enabling connection to the nearest mobile phone tower.
How Does a Wi-Fi Dongle Work?
So, how do Wi-Fi dongles for PCs, laptops and similar devices work? They are essentially miniature modems. A modem - short for modulator-demodulator - converts digital data into formats suitable for transmission over the network. This is done via modulation - varying the characteristics of a radio wave to encode data. The demodulator reverses this process, converting an incoming radio wave back into accessible data.
Wi-Fi has an effective range of 75 to 150 feet. Any laptop, PC or smartphone within that distance should be able to connect, but environmental obstacles - for example, stone walls - may interfere.
Wi-Fi is based on the IEEE 802.11 wireless transmission standard, a subset of the wider IEEE 802.11 family of wireless standards, which were defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Successive, faster iterations of IEEE 802.11 are marked by appended letters. The original version in 1999 was 802.11a, and the most recent IEEE 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6. This transmits at 5GHz, although all versions are backwards compatible with their predecessors, allowing older hardware to remain in use. Wi-Fi 6 has a maximum speed of 9.6 gigabits per second, close to three times the speed of its predecessor, the Wi-Fi 5 standard.
Most Wi-Fi networks are encrypted and password-controlled to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive data.