Celebrating 20 Years Of Wi-Fi

The year 1999: How it all began

If you’re like me and if you’ve been around for a while you may remember some of the things that happened in 1999: The Euro common currency was born. President Bill Clinton was acquitted by the US Senate. Sponge-bob Square-pants premiered on Nickelodeon TV. Vladimir Putin took over from Boris Yeltsin and became president of Russia.

But 1999 was also the year when Wi-Fi was born. Yes, Wi-Fi industry stalwarts will argue ad infinitum about the sequence of events and what caused what but here is what we believe: In 1998 – after WLAN had been technically and commercially verified by early pioneers – Steve Jobs hired Lucent to develop mass-market WLAN technology. In summer of 1999 Apple launched the world’s first laptop computer with built-in Wi-Fi (the iBook) and the first consumer-grade Wi-Fi router (the AirPort).

The Wi-Fi Alliance is formed

From then on laptops with built-in WLAN quickly became what everyone wanted. In 1999 the precursor to the Wi-Fi Alliance was formed in order that the explosion of new WLAN devices be certified for interoperability. The organisation chose the less than catchy Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance or WECA as their name. In year 2000 the name was officially changed to the Wi-Fi Alliance and henceforth – in one fell swoop – WLAN became Wi-Fi.

We arguably also owe much of incredible success of Wi-Fi to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the unprecedented acceleration of wireless innovation that followed. Today Wi-Fi carries well over 80% of smartphone traffic in many countries. The global economic surplus value of Wi-Fi has been estimated to a staggering $1.96 trillion US dollars. And at some point in time during 2019 Planet Earth will become home to more than 10 billion Wi-Fi connected devices.

A heartfelt thanks to the giants of our industry

We have a lot of great folks to be thankful for when looking back. In 1985 Dr Michael Marcus was instrumental in making the first (2.4 GHz) bands available for spread spectrum use. And without the tireless efforts of Vic Hayes – known as ‘the father of Wi-Fi’ – as founder and first chairman of the 802.11 working group there would likely be no Wi-Fi today at all.

We’re also enormously thankful for the work and leadership of Wi-Fi Alliance President & CEO Edgar Figueroa who has guided the Wi-Fi industry into a golden age of accelerated growth and innovation. And this of course is only a select few on a long list of great Wi-Fi people of past and present – many of whom are still contributing to the continued evolution and success of Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi future looks more than promising

But we also have to look ahead – and in truth there’s a lot to look forward to. For the first time in more than a decade Wi-Fi is on track to get more spectrum to work with. Possibly up to 1.2 GHz more Wi-Fi spectrum could be released in the US by end of 2019. And there is more: The much-discussed 5.9 GHz band – which straddles the existing 5 GHz and future 6 GHz bands – may also become available to Wi-Fi following the reopening of this case by the FCC earlier this year.

We’re also tantalizingly close to the launch of a brand new and vastly better version of Wi-Fi. Past standards have improved the lives of billions of people and Wi-Fi 6 is on track to do exactly that except even more so. Optimized to deliver more of what you want to more devices more reliably than ever before, Wi-Fi 6 is a leap towards more and higher-quality connectivity everywhere. And don’t forget: Wi-Fi 6 is very much about connecting things, too.

Let the innovation begin!

And as with all previous versions of Wi-Fi the recipe for success is simple: Get the technology out there and let innovation reign. ‘Wi-Fi is innovation without a license,’ said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. And she’s right. After the first twenty years of uninterrupted global success there still is no wireless technology quite like it. – Wi-Fi Now

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