Wi-Fi: How it Works
A typical Wi-Fi setup contains one or more Access Points (APs) and one or more clients. An AP broadcasts its SSID (Service Set Identifier, "Network name") via packets that are called beacons, which are usually broadcast every 100 ms. The beacons are transmitted at 1 Mbit/s, and are of relatively short duration and therefore do not have a significant effect on performance. Since 1 Mbit/s is the lowest rate of Wi-Fi it assures that the client who receives the beacon can communicate at at least 1 Mbit/s. Based on the settings (e.g. the SSID), the client may decide whether to connect to an AP. If two APs of the same SSID are in range of the client, the client firmware might use signal strength to decide which of the two APs to make a connection to. The Wi-Fi standard leaves connection criteria and roaming totally open to the client. This is a strength of Wi-Fi, but also means that one wireless adapter may perform substantially better than another. Since Wi-Fi transmits in the air, it has the same properties as a non-switched wired Ethernet network, and therefore collisions can occur. Unlike a wired Ethernet, and like most packet radios, Wi-Fi cannot do collision detection, and instead uses a packet exchange (RTS/CTS used for Collision Avoidance or CA) to try to avoid collisions.'