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Invention and Evolution of: WIFI

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If I ask you what one single (manmade) thing you can’t survive without, what would be your answer? Well, mine is WiFi…and there’s no second thought about it. It has been the most crucial part of our life and all our smart gadgets literally “breathes” WiFi. And that indirectly implies, we too survive on WiFi, literally.

Wi-Fi is a term that most of us hear almost everyday and is a service most would consider an integral part of our lives. From our smartphones to our game consoles and computers, most devices on the market today are equipped to use Wi-Fi. While WiFi has become critical to routines of many, a large portion of us don’t know anything more than the basics. Let’s explore the ins and outs of Wi-Fi and its history.

What exactly is WiFi? How does it work?

For most of the people, Wi-Fi is synonymous with an internet connection. However this is far from the truth. Wi-Fi is actually a wireless standard for connecting to a router from your device.

A router is a device that creates an internal home or office wireless network, and acts as the hub of this network. When you type in a website address from your phone or computer, it sends the address to the router. The router requests this page from the modem. The modem then connects to your ISP and sends the address to a DNS server.

A DNS (Domain Name System) server acts as a phone book, getting the numerical IP (Internet Protocol) address for the website address you typed. It then sends the IP to your computer, which saves it for later use and then requests the page from the ISP using the new address. When the ISP (Internet Service Provider) delivers the page, the modem sends it to the router. The router then sends it to your device.

WiFi: The invention story…

Wi-Fi would certainly not exist without a decision taken in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America’s telecoms regulator, to open several bands of wireless spectrum, allowing them to be used without the need for a government licence. This was an unheard-of move at the time, other than the ham-radio channels, there was very little unlicensed spectrum. But the FCC, prompted by a visionary engineer on its staff, Michael Marcus, took three chunks of spectrum from the industrial, scientific and medical bands and opened them up to communications entrepreneurs.

These so-called “garbage bands”, at 900MHz, 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz, were already allocated to equipment that used radio-frequency energy for purposes other than communications: microwave ovens, for example, which use radio waves to heat food. The FCC made them available for communications purposes as well, on the condition that any devices using these bands would have to steer around interference from other equipment. They would do so using “spread spectrum” technology, originally developed for military use.

“ Wi-Fi is a term that most of us hear almost everyday and is a service most would consider an integral part of our lives. ”

Though the 1985 ruling seems visionary in hindsight, nothing much happened at the time. What ultimately got Wi-Fi moving was the creation of an industry-wide standard. Initially, vendors of wireless equipment for local-area networks (LANs), such as Proxim and Symbol, developed their own kinds of proprietary equipment that operated in the unlicensed bands. Inspired by the success of Ethernet, a wireline-networking standard, several vendors realised that a common wireless standard made sense too. Buyers would be more likely to adopt the technology if they were not “locked in” to a particular vendor’s products.

In 1988, NCR Corporation, which wanted to use the unlicensed spectrum to hook up wireless cash registers, asked Victor Hayes, one of its engineers, to look into getting a standard started. Mr Hayes, along with Bruce Tuch of Bell Labs, approached the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), where a committee called 802.3 had defined the Ethernet standard. A new committee called 802.11 was set up, with Mr Hayes as chairman, and the negotiations began.

The fragmented market meant it took a long time for the various vendors to agree on definitions and draw up a standard acceptable to 75% of the committee members. Finally, in 1997, the committee agreed on a basic specification. It allowed for a data-transfer rate of two megabits per second, using either of two spread-spectrum technologies, frequency hopping or direct-sequence transmission.

The new standard was published in 1997, and engineers immediately began working on prototype equipment to comply with it. Two variants, called 802.11b (which operates in the 2.4GHz band) and 802.11a (which operates in the 5.8GHz band), were ratified in December 1999 and January 2000 respectively. 802.11b was developed primarily by Richard van Nee of Lucent and Mark Webster of Intersil (then Harris Semiconductor).

Companies began building 802.11b-compatible devices. But the specification was so long and complex—it filled 400 pages—that compatibility problems persisted. So in August 1999, six companies—Intersil, 3Com, Nokia, Aironet (since purchased by Cisco), Symbol and Lucent (which has since spun off its components division to form Agere Systems)—got together to create the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA).

The naming story:

The idea was that this body would certify that products from different vendors were truly compatible with each other. But the terms “WECA compatible” or “IEEE802.11b compliant” hardly tripped off the tongue. The new technology needed a consumer-friendly name. Branding consultants suggested a number of names, including “FlankSpeed” and “DragonFly”. But the clear winner was “Wi-Fi”. It sounded a bit like hi-fi, and consumers were used to the idea that a CD player from one company would work with an amplifier from another. So Wi-Fi it was. (The idea that this stood for “wireless fidelity” was dreamed up later.)

Is WiFi secured?

As revolutionary as Wi-Fi is, it is not without its faults. In this day and age, it’s incredibly easy to spy on your internet connection. Hackers can utilize many tools to steal your personal information such as credit cards, email and social network passwords, and much more. In fact, in a study conducted by Symantec, the total cost of cybercrime in 2013 was $113 million!

Thankfully a FlashRouter can be the remedy to these problems, due to the inclusion of VPNs and encrypting your Wi-Fi signal/activity, along with a wealth of features such as power saver mode, graphing your network usage, managing network access restrictions and a firewall.

WiFi Standards of the future:

Wireless AC is just starting to become a reality after its inclusion in the newest iPhone, but even more versions are on the way. Some future protocols have been names as extensions of the 802.11ac naming protocol: 802.11ah,(targeted for the end of 2016), 802.11aj, and 802.11ax (coming at you around 2019).

802.11ah is reported to boast lower energy consumption and other features adhering to the concept of “The Internet Of Things”, the concept of connecting objects such as blenders and coffee makers over Wi-Fi so you could, say, have your coffee machine send you an email when it needs its filter replaced.

Barely anything is known about 802.11aj, except for hints of improved performance. As for 802.11ax, reported Huawei 802.11ax device hit a max speed of 10.53Gbps, or around 1.4 gigabytes of data transferred per second.

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