Twenty Years of Wifi

Wifi’s origins go back to the University of Hawaii in the early 1970s. In 1971, the University of Hawaii completed the first wireless data packet transfer ever attempted without a satellite or connected cables. The team, led by engineer and computer scientist Norman Abramson, used a new technology called Ultra High Frequency radio waves (UHF) to successfully connect seven computers, spread across different Hawaiian islands. They called their network ALOHANET. By 1985, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened up three telecom bands for unlicensed use, which meant that anyone could communicate over them. This led to many tech companies quickly and successfully developing their own wireless local networks.

But the real shift happened in 1997 when Vic Hayes  introduced the concept of an international standard for wireless networking, known as the IEEE 802.11 standard. This eventually led to the creation of IEEE802.11. This standard outlined basic specs for WiFi, allowing two megabytes per second of data transfer wirelessly between devices. Once this was set, the development of routers happened rapidly, and in 1999, WiFi was introduced for home use. The same year, the WiFi Alliance was established to ensure WiFi kept the same set of standards across the globe.

WiFi uses electromagnetic waves to communicate data that run at two main frequencies: 2.4Ghz (802.11b) and 5Ghz (802.11a). For many years, 2.4Ghz was a popular choice for WiFi users, as it worked with most mainstream devices and was less expensive than 11a. But eventually, the 2.4 GHz extended range meant that an increasing number of devices (from baby monitors to Bluetooth) were using the same frequency, causing it to become overcrowded and slower.

To solve this issue, dual-band routers were created. These routers contained two types of wireless radios that could simultaneously support connections on both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz links. By default, devices in range of a dual-band router would automatically connect to the faster, more efficient 5GHz frequency. However, if a device was further away or behind walls, the 2.4Ghz could be used as a backup. Today’s Wifi has four times the speed of these earlier dual-bands, and the ability to support more antennas, meaning data can be sent even more quickly.

WiFi performance continues to improve and it’s one of the most ubiquitous communications technologies in use today. It’s easy to install, economical, and simple to use. WiFi Access Points are now set up just about everywhere – from homes to every type of business. We’ve gone from novelty to cannot live without it in less than 20 years!