A Brief History of WiFi

Back to Blog  •  Posted on June 10, 2014 by admin

wifi graphic logo

The origins and history of Wi-Fi technology is strange, humorous, and full of the sorts of errors that all new technology seems to breed. Here are some of the more interesting highlights of Wi-Fi’s past.

The Name
Wi-Fi doesn’t actually stand for ‘Wireless Fidelity’ as most people tend to believe. Wi-Fi doesn’t actually stand for anything, it is a play on the popular term Hi-Fi that music buffs were throwing around a decade prior to Wi-Fi’s invention. The marketing firm at fault for the misconception, the Wi-Fi Alliance, used the slogan “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity”. This slogan is nonsense. Wi-Fi Alliance just liked the term better than the band’s actual name, 802.11b for marketing purposes.The Beginning
Wi-Fi has its roots in a 1985 FCC ruling, and patents by AT&T and NCR. This ruling allowed for the bands Wi-Fi utilizes to be used without government permission.

John O'Sullivan wifi

John O’Sullivan- Co-Inventor of the technology that makes WiFi popular and effective – Photo by Satorchi on Wikimedia Commons (creative commons)

Mad Science
One of the important patents for Wi-Fi, a patent for technology that enables a clearer signal for Wi-Fi devices, was initially developed for a totally different (and weird) purpose. John O’Sullivan, a radio astronomer, what working on technology to try and detect tiny, atom sized black holes. The experiment was a failure.


wifi alliance graphic logo

Certified, Genuine Wi-Fi
The Wi-Fi Alliance is still around, controlling who gets to describe devices as Wi-Fi. The certification process is carried out by the Wi-Fi alliance, which operates as a nonprofit organization. They are also in charge of protecting backwards compatibility, and the promotion of wireless LAN technology. The Wi-fi Alliance counts manufacturers as members of their alliance, and only those members are allowed to brand their products with the Wi-Fi name.


uhf super wifi

The FCC came up with an idea to add part of the UHF TV band to wireless networking bands under the nameSuper WiFi. The Wi-Fi Alliance does not necessarily sanction derivative terms like these for related wireless technology.


carnegie melon university

Wireless Who?
The first campus wide wireless internet network actually predated Wi-Fi. It was at Carnegie Melon, in Pittsburgh, and it bore the strange name “Wireless Andrew”. The was a 2Mbps network that covered the entire campus of the university. While it was set up in 1993, it was not until 1997 that the network was opened to all students and researchers.

The history of Wi-Fi is strange indeed!