On one of our previous articles Birth and Proliferation of WiFi, we extensively discussed the birth of WiFi and shed light on some of the most crucial moments in its timeline. We saw how an angle of the concept of wireless connectivity was conceived by a Hollywood star, how cash registers made use of wireless connectivity and gradually how our man Steve Jobs went on to make it inevitable today.
On this post, we would extend the discussion and explore more on how WiFi went on to become what it is today, the onset of new standards, amendments of a few, its future and more.
This technology makes use of electromagnetic waves to transmit data. These waves run at two distinct frequencies – 5 GHz (802.11a) and 2.4 GHz (802.11b). IEEE802.11 is the establishment that defines WiFi standards for local area networks. For a number of years, 2.4Ghz was preferred because of two reasons – it worked well with most devices at that point and it was way less expensive than its 5Ghz counterpart.
With time, these standards and the bandwidths they operated in kept evolving to cater to the increasing demands of users. Starting from 1999, when it was initially made available to consumers across the world, let’s have a look at how WiFi frequencies and WiFi have evolved over the decades.
This worked in the 2.4 GHz frequency like the original 802.11 standards. With a maximum range of 150ft and speed of 11Mbps, this is not only the slowest in the standard but was commercially cheap in its day as well. One major drawback this standard faced was that since its operating frequency is 2.4 GHz just like the other home appliances, chances of them causing interferences were more. Currently, routers that support this standard are not even manufactured.
Released almost at the same time as 802.11b, this came with more advanced and complex technology. It relied on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing to generate wireless signals. It operated in the 5 GHz frequency and offered multiple advantages including the elimination of interference caused by other devices. Besides, it also offered an incremented bandwidth providing connectivity speeds at around 54Mbps.
Four years later, another standard was defined by the committee. This was the time WiFi standards were getting better and devices were advancing to support higher ranges, power, bandwidth and coverage. In 2003, the 802.11g was introduced that operated just like 802.11a. Meaning, it functioned on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing technology but the only drawback it faced was that it went back in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, again giving rise to concerns on interferences.
However, 802.11g came with backward compatibility features, wherein 802.11b router could connect to an 802.11g access point but at the speeds of 802.11b.
2009 was the time smartphones were introduced and wireless connectivity started to become a household name. It was the dawn of a new era, where on-demand services in sectors like entertainment, food and other businesses started flourishing, further pushing the need for a faster and more efficient wireless internet.
802.11n arrived to simply offer the market what it was looking for. Using multiple input multiple output technology, this standard offered a fantastic speed of 300Mbps. And because it worked on this technology, one could even achieve speeds of 450Mbps with the inclusion of more antennae. It operated in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrums and allowed users to enjoy more data transmission power without requiring higher bandwidth.
2014 was the year of a remarkable achievement in terms of WiFi standards. The 802.11ac was introduced and this new technology could offer speeds ranging from 433Mbps to several Gbs per second. Working only in the 5 GHz spectrum, this technology supported upto 8 spatial streams and increased the channel width to up to 80 MHz With 802.11ac, a new technology called beam forming was introduced. With this, one could direct signals from a device’s antennae to a specific device. Besides, this standard also added a layer to the multiple input multiple output concepts. While multiple streams could be directed to just one client in 802.11n, 802.11ac allowed multiple streams to be directed to multiple clients at once.
The most recent standard is 802.11ad, which was introduced in the year 2018. Making use of the beam forming technology, this technology operates in 60 GHz frequency band and offers speeds of up to 6Gbps. This brings us to another crucial technology that relies essentially on wireless technology.
A buzzword until a few years back, IOT has become a commercial and a popular concept among the masses today. By now, most of us are experiencing the magic of IOT already in our home, office or both. Known as the Internet of Things, this technology is all about machines communicating with each other over the internet. It could be your smart refrigerator connected to the internet sending you details about temperatures, probable malfunctions or more. It could be your smartwatch keeping a track of your heart rate and suggesting diets and exercise. Or, it could even be your smart television understanding your preferences and showing you video recommendations. IOT is everywhere in the form of home automation today.
With IOT becoming basic today, the need to generate, store and process more data has not just become crucial but inevitable. That’s why the internet is more than a luxury today. It’s become a way of life and to support these increasing requirements, WiFi standards have to consider the changes in the market and offer speeds accordingly. The IOT technology that’s seen as implementations in our home today would go on to become smart cars, smart grids, smart farms and more in the future.
This not only elevates the speeds and bandwidth requirements on a household level but on a geographic level as well. The future of WiFi is all about WiFi 6 and beyond. In a few years (or even months), streaming 4k videos wouldn’t cost a fortune. We would also be having cities filled with hotspots to offer uninterrupted connectivity. The future looks promising and with more WiFi security features getting researched and implemented, there would be no dearth of impeccable wireless connectivity in the coming years and decades.