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The Birth and Proliferation 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
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
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.
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,
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.
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.