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How the Internet Works

Aug 19, 2020, 12:17 PM by Dawn Huth

First, we have to ask, what is the internet?

Internet is essentially a set of rules that lets your computer talk to another computer. Your computer uses those rules to connect you to the Web. The Internet is technically a global network of billions of computers and other electronic devices that are all connected to one another. But other things are needed to have access to this global network.

How do you connect to the Internet?

A piece of equipment called a modem is needed to connect to the Internet. A modem is usually a small box that connects your computer to Madison’s service. Madison is then your connection to the Web. Another piece of equipment is then needed to generate a Wi-Fi signal for a wireless connection.

What is the Web?

The World Wide Web, is a collection of different websites you can access through the internet. 

How does the Internet Work?

The Internet is a network of networks. Networks are groups of interconnected devices. Any device that is connected to a network is known as a node. It’s important to realize that the Internet is a global network of physical cables, which can include copper telephone wires, TV cables, and fiber optic cables. Even wireless connections like Wi-Fi and 3G/4G rely on these physical cables to access the Internet. There are also two main concepts that are fundamental to the way the Internet functions: packets and protocols. A packet is a small segment of a larger message, and a protocol is a standardized way of doing certain actions and formatting data so that two or more devices are able to communicate with and understand each other.

When visiting a website from your computer, your computer sends a request over the wires mentioned above, to a server. The websites are stored on a server. Once the request arrives to the server, the server retrieves the website and sends the correct data back to your computer. What’s amazing is that this all happens in just a few seconds.

Is Wi-Fi different than the Internet?

Yes. Wi-Fi doesn’t have anything to do with your internet connection and the two terms should not be used interchangeably, although they often are. Wi-Fi is the signal your router sends off from the modem that allows for a wireless connection to the Internet. A Wi-Fi connection is not possible, without an Internet connection. But an internet connection is possible without a Wi-Fi connection. Internet connection measures the strength of your router’s connection to the internet. You can have a strong connection to your Wi-Fi, but no connection to the internet and vice versa.

Also something to keep in mind, not all modems are routers. Combo devices (modem/routers) can be very handy, but it is good to remember that they are still doing two different types of networking. The modem portion of the device is pulling the internet from your ISP, and the router is sending the wi-fi signal to your devices.

There are many variables that can affect your Wi-Fi signal. Here are a few:

  1. Physical Obstructions
    1. Wireless signals can have trouble penetrating solid objects which can be any numbers of things such as hills, buildings, single walls, or even people. The more obstructions you have between the transmitter and receiver, the more chance there is that the signal strength will be affected. For example, it is not advised to put your modem/router in a closet in your home, or in the basement.
  2. Electronic gadgets and other devices
    1. Cordless phones, microwaves, satellite dishes, and alarm systems are all examples of devices that can interfere with the frequency of your wireless network.
  3. Network Range and Distance between devices
    1. The further apart the networked devices that are trying to communicate with each other are, the more the signal strength drops. As the signal spreads more, trying to get to the device it is communicating with, the weaker the signal becomes.
  4. Age & quality of device
    1. Upgrading to a current generation router is a cheap and effective way to improve your home network in every way: better Wi-Fi range, stronger signal, and better handling of demands modern users put on a network.

Can old equipment affect my service?

YES! An old modem or router can limit your internet speed. As new technology and faster speeds become available, modems need to be upgraded. Just like computer software, modems and routers can become outdated and will limit your bandwidth capabilities, regardless of what speed you subscribe to from your ISP. If you start to experience frequent symptoms of an under-powered or overwhelmed router, or if you cannot get Wi-Fi signal everywhere in your home, consider upgrading your device.

Types of Internet Service

There a few different types of Internet service. The type at your home will be dependent on your Internet service provider, and the type of service they offer.

Here are some common types of Internet service:

  1. DSL- Connects to the internet via a phone line, but does not require you to have a landline at home.
  2. Cable Modem – Cable modem service connects to the Internet via cable TV, but you do not necessarily need to have cable TV to have cable modem service.
  3. Fiber – Uses fiber-optic cable, which can send data as fast as about 70% the speed of light.