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Hard-core geeks rejoice: new acronyms are appearing almost daily. Oh, such a complicated world. Don't know your BREW from your 802.11? This guide to wireless initialisms (one of the few synonyms for acronym) and jargon may help.

WiFi and the IEEE

WiFi, pronounced Y-Fie, is short for wireless fidelity. It's the technology primarily used, for now at least, to connect laptops wirelessly to computer networks and the Internet.

The IEEE -- The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or Eye-Triple-E -- developed the WiFi standard back in 1997, christening it IEEE 802.11 and thus began the era of the hotspot -- more properly known as a WAP (wireless access point) -- that now come attached to most urban coffee shops.

The A-B-Gs of 802.11

But we couldn't have just one version of 802.11, could we? Noooo. We needed four: 802.11, 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. So what's the diff? Numerous differences, actually. First, there are two frequency ranges at work here -- the unregulated 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz) radio frequency and the regulated 5 GHz band. The 2.4 GHz model is cheaper to produce, has a greater range and only three non-overlapping channels. The 5 GHz version offers more channels -- up to 12 -- and higher transfer rates, but is more expensive to manufacture.

A is for business . . .

Really: 802.11a, which operates in the regulated 5GHz band, is faster -- up to 54 Mbps (megabits per second) and offers more channels, while 802.11b, operating in the unregulated 2.4 GHz band, is cheaper to manufacture. But it's also prone to interference from microwave ovens and portable telephones.

In 2002, the latest standard -- IEEE 802.11g -- was released and has proven to be immensely popular, offering the advantage of the higher speed of 802.11a -- 54 Mbps -- while retaining the lower cost and broader reach of the unregulated frequency range.

Wireless meets LAN and WAN

Hook a bunch of computers together in one location and you have a LAN (local-area network). Gamers buy special carryalls to lug their computers and monitors around to LAN parties. Connect two or more LANs into one network and you have a WAN (wide-area network).

Add wireless capabilities to a LAN and you have a WLAN (wireless LAN). Add wireless to a WAN to create a WWAN. WLANs typically use WiFi while WWANs typically use satellite, radio and cellular telephone technologies.

Get plugged in

The guy walking through the airport talking to himself, with an odd metallic earpiece wrapped around one ear? That's Bluetooth. It's also being used to wirelessly connect mobile phones to car audio systems, so phone calls are routed through the speakers. And to connect laptops to printers and other peripherals to avoid the usual rat's nest of office wiring.

Named after the medieval king who united the Danes, Bluetooth is an implementation of the communications protocol (IEEE 802.15) designed to create a WPAN (wireless personal-area network). It was intended to have a very limited range, be inexpensive to manufacture and ideal for linking personal devices such as PDAs, cellphones, laptops and wireless headsets.

Paris made me change numbers

She didn't, really, but it does make for a great T-shirt. And it illustrates the potential for mischief as we move to a wireless world.

To be effective, Bluetooth-enabled devices need to be able to communicate with each other. And that leaves them open to Bluesnarfing, a technique using a laptop and antenna to sniff out Bluetooth signals and take control of vulnerable phone, typically with a virus.

Compromised phones can be used to eavesdrop on their owners, make outgoing calls, or give up their contents including phone numbers and naughty pictures.

(Paris Hilton's cellphone wasn't hacked, by the way -- it was her T-Mobile account. The pricey phone she used, a Sidekick, stores information like address books and images in the cellphone carrier's computer network.)

Supersnarfed and Bluebugged

The conventional wisdom about Bluesnarf prevention these days is 1) zip up in public (turn your Bluetooth off if you're not using it) and 2) don't worry, the electronic bubble is small and you have to get inside the bubble to cause trouble.

Then along came the BSR (Bluetooth sniper rifle), a $200 DIY project its designers say can hook into a WPAN from 1,000 metres.

If you prefer engineering to digital weaponry, watch this: "What an amazing-looking phone. Can I see it?" Punch a key. Punch a key. "Wow. Very cool."

You've been Bluebugged and your smart phone is now a cyberbitch to a dominant device. Hello, Paris.

The skinny on 3G

This describes third generation mobile telephone technology that can handle voice data and non-voice data: Make a call, e-mail a cell-cam photo of the London Underground to your pals, send an IM (instant message) to your daughter and ask if she's doing her homework.

While a few people might ask her to zap a video back over the mobile phone connection as proof, cellphone video didn't turn out to be the killer app that drove European telcos into a bidding frenzy for regulated frequencies.

The winners went into deep debt to pay the licence fees, then had trouble financing the rollouts. Where 3G has been most prolific, in Japan and Korea, the real killer app has been music downloads.

Portable programming

WAP (wireless application protocol) was designed to let small, handheld wireless devices connect to the Internet.

Its implementation, though, has been shaky, with wags dubbing it "worthless application protocol."

J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) from Sun Microsystems has become a popular programming environment for the development of games for cellphones and PDAs, primarily because games can be emulated on a personal computer during development then uploaded to a cellphone, rather than requiring the often expensive hardware and licencing fees associated with vendor-specific gaming platforms, such as those made by Sony and Nintendo.

A competing platform -- BREW (binary run-time environment for wireless) from Qualcomm -- was designed specifically for CDMA (code division multiple access) portable phones that use the Qualcomm chipset.

WiFi to the max

Welcome to the world of WMAN (wireless municipal area network). WiFi is measured in square metres, while the newest addition to the wireless team -- WiMax (wireless interoperability for microwave access) -- is measured in square kilometres.

WiMax offers the promise of cell-like wireless broadband access for laptop computers and PDAs -- goodbye hotspot hopping -- and for hybrid cellphones that can switch between the wireless telephone network and the wireless IP (Internet protocol) network.

Carriers are watching WiMax developments closely in the expectation that they can provide broadband services to the all-important last kilometre.

Microsoft, for instance, is reportedly considering adding WiMax as a standard feature for the Xbox 360 game device aimed for release this November.