Technology

The Birth and Proliferation of WiFi

History of wifi

We are perhaps the most blessed generation because we’re the ones to witness the gradual integration of technology in our everyday lives. From getting started with the dial-up internet connection to having perpetual connectivity, we have really come a long way. The internet has not only changed the way we shop, get entertained and live but work as well. Remote working and concepts like location independence are on the rise because of the internet.

But how much do we actually know about the technology that’s shaping our lives, present and future? Well, this article is all about shedding light on the lesser-known aspects of the internet, its invention and ultimately, the birth of WiFi.

The Internet and Its Invention

Today, if we could send instant messages to people across the world and sometimes even across the cosmos, it’s because of the single most important invention of the century – the internet. While the internet was made available and popular years later, the initial seeds were sown in the year 1962. Surprising because, artificial intelligence, another disruptive technology influencing our lives today was thought of at around the same time.

In 1961, Leonard Kleinrock published a revolutionary paper that introduced the packet-switching theory. It discussed the plausibility of replacing circuits with packets for a communication, which eventually became a breakthrough in terms of computer communication.

J.C.R. Licklider, in 1962 at MIT, discussed the concept of networking in his memos. The concept revolved around a galactic network, where he envisioned interconnected computers that would allow people to instantly get access to information and files from anywhere.

Cut to a decade later, at the International Computer Communication Conference (ICCC) in 1972, Kahn organized the demonstration of the ARPANET. Funded by the United States Department of Defense, this worked on the principles of the packet switching technology to deliver messages from one computer to another. Before the popular event, ARPANET delivered its first message to another computer – Login. While the receiving system only received the first two letters of the message, the attempt was a breakthrough nevertheless.

It was also in the same ICCC event that the second hottest invention was unveiled – the electronic mail.

The First Seed of WiFi In Hollywood

If the concepts of artificial intelligence and the internet were discussed in the 1960s, ideas on wireless communication started even before it. You would be surprised to realize that the first seeds for WiFi were sown in Hollywood in the year 1942. Hedy Lamar and George Antheil, a Hollywood star and a music composer respectively, were granted a special patent to develop a secret wireless communication framework to be implemented in navy torpedoes.

Despite being a Hollywood star, she preferred books on engineering than social gatherings. Her extensive research in this field led to her understanding of the concept of frequency hopping. This involved the transmission of radio signals by swiftly switching carriers among diverse frequency channels through pseudo-random sequences that could be identified only by transmitters and receivers.

The idea was too advanced to be implemented at the time and it was kept as a secret until 1980s. Her invention was later used to build a local network, which went on to become WiFi. In 1985, The Federal Communications Commission implemented the frequency hopping principle conceived by Lamarr and opened radio band for the public. This also paved the way for the onset of data communication in devices like television remote controllers, garage openers, ovens and more.

The First Application of Wireless Connectivity

Now that wireless communication was possible, how could this be possibly used? What problem it would solve initially? The answer came in a few years later when NCR – the National Cash Registers Corporation – was looking for a reliable solution to connect cash registers across locations to a centralized computer. This stemmed from the increased usage of cash registers in the festive season when sales actually skyrocketed in supermarkets. To avoid drilling holes in stores and have a computer at the back of the store, researchers began looking for ways to implement the knowledge from local area networks and radio frequencies. The final product based on this was launched in 1990 at Networld.

However, there were still trust issues surrounding wireless internet solutions. There was a need to standardize this and this resulted in the creation of a committee called 802.11. This is also the basis of IEEE802.11, which defines WLAN communication standards. A basic specification of 2Mbps over WiFI was established and this led to the development of another prototype equipment, namely routers.

Commercial WiFi

For close to a decade, WLAN was plagued with several standardization struggles and aspects. It was only in the year 1999 that wireless internet started becoming a household name. Thanks to Steve Jobs and his introduction of wireless internet connectivity in his iBook systems, WiFi was officially made available to laymen. AirPort with a card an access point was introduced and left innovation take over from then.

A decade ago – in 2009 – 802.11n’s final version was unveiled that paved the way for more reliable and faster connectivity. The introduction of MIMO (Multiple Input and Multiple Output) with added antennas enhanced the communication efficiency of both receivers and transmitters. This led to a significant increase in the volume of data being sent without increasing the bandwidth.

WiFi has been one of the technologies that have only kept on evolving over the years. With an increase in demands, it kept catering to the needs of consumers and enterprises seamlessly. The birth of WiFi simultaneously led to the birth of several WiFi companies such as networking and router manufacturing organizations. It has become so prominent that we now have this technology on our smartphone as an inevitable feature.

Today, we are at the dawn of another revolution, where we have moved on from human-to-machine communication. We are now increasingly working on enhancing communications among machines. Called the Internet of Things, this technology is already part of your smartphone, smartwatches, televisions and more. However, we will look at the evolution of WiFi in a post specifically dedicated to this.

So, stay tuned.

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