A Wi-Fi enabled device such as a PC, game console, cell phone, MP3 player or PDA can connect to the Internet when within range of a wireless network connected to the Internet. The area covered by one or more interconnected access points is called a hotspot. Hotspots can cover as little as a single room with wireless-opaque walls or as much as many square miles covered by overlapping access points. Wi-Fi can also be used to create a mesh network. Both architectures are used in community networks.
Wi-Fi also allows connectivity in peer-to-peer (wireless ad-hoc network) mode, which enables devices to connect directly with each other. This connectivity mode is useful in consumer electronics and gaming applications.
When the technology was first commercialized there were many problems because consumers could not be sure that products from different vendors would work together. The Wi-Fi Alliance began as a community to solve this issue so as to address the needs of the end user and allow the technology to mature. The Alliance created the branding Wi-Fi CERTIFIED to show consumers that products are interoperable with other products displaying the same branding.
Many consumer devices use Wi-Fi. Amongst others, personal computers can network to each other and connect to the Internet, mobile computers can connect to the Internet from any Wi-Fi hotspot, and digital cameras can transfer images wirelessly.
Routers which incorporate a DSL or cable modem and a Wi-Fi access point are often used in homes and other premises, and provide Internet access and internetworking to all devices connected wirelessly or by cable into them. Devices supporting Wi-Fi can also be connected in ad-hoc mode for client-to-client connections without a router.
Business and industrial Wi-Fi is widespread as of 2007. In business environments, increasing the number of Wi-Fi access points provides redundancy, support for fast roaming and increased overall network capacity by using more channels or creating smaller cells. Wi-Fi enables wireless voice applications (VoWLAN or WVOIP). Over the years, Wi-Fi implementations have moved toward 'thin' access points, with more of the network intelligence housed in a centralized network appliance, relegating individual Access Points to be simply 'dumb' radios. Outdoor applications may utilize true mesh topologies. As of 2007 Wi-Fi installations can provide a secure computer networking gateway, firewall, DHCP server, intrusion detection system, and other functions.
In addition to restricted use in homes and offices, Wi-Fi is publicly available at Wi-Fi hotspots provided either free of charge or to subscribers to various providers. Free hotspots are often provided by businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and airports who offer the service to attract or assist clients. Sometimes free Wi-Fi is provided by enthusiasts, or by organizations or authorities who wish to promote business in their area. Metropolitan-wide WiFi (Mu-Fi) already has more than 300 projects in process.