Since its inception, WiFi has played an integral role in keeping us connected at home and in public. We’ve come to expect a standard degree of connectivity wherever we go and regularly rely on WiFi to maintain our productivity, our organization, our health, and even our protection.
Recent advances in WiFi technology have greatly contributed to the Internet of Things, allowing us to be even more connected than ever before. But how many of us know the full history behind WiFi technology? When was WiFi invented? How exactly does it work? And just how far it has come in 25 years? Here we’ve explored the history of WiFi, from where it began, what it has helped us achieve, and what future it promises us as we become increasingly interconnected.
Purple Indoor Location Services
Before we continue with the history of WiFi, see how Purple’s Guest WiFi solution and additional product use cases have evolved to become a part of the Indoor Location Services market by accessing your complimentary report.
As of February 2023, Purple has been announced as a Niche Player within Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Indoor Location Services, which we believe demonstrates the company’s reputation as a recognized vendor for indoor location solutions.
What is WiFi, and How Does it Work?
At a base level, WiFi is a way of getting broadband internet to a device using wireless transmitters and radio signals. Once a transmitter receives data from the internet, it converts the data into a radio signal that can be received and read by WiFi-enabled devices. Information is then exchanged between the transmitter and the device.
1997 – When was WiFi invented?
WiFi was invented and first released for consumers in 1997 when a committee called 802.11 was created.
This led to the creation of IEEE802.11, which refers to a set of standards that define communication for wireless local area networks (WLANs).
Following this, a basic specification for WiFi was established, allowing two megabytes per second of data transfer wirelessly between devices.
This sparked the development of prototype equipment (routers) to comply with IEEE 802.11, and in 1999, WiFi was introduced for home use.
WiFi uses electromagnetic waves to communicate data that run at two main frequencies: 2.4Ghz (802.11b) and 5Ghz (802.11a). For many years, 2.4Ghz was a popular choice for WiFi users, as it worked with most mainstream devices and was less expensive than 11a.
2003 – Getting stronger
In 2003, faster speeds and distance coverage of the earlier WiFi versions combined to make the 802.11g standard. Routers were getting better too, with higher power and further coverage than ever before. WiFi was beginning to catch up – competing with the speed of the fastest wired connections.
2009 – The arrival of 802.11n
2009 saw the final version of the 802.11n, which was even faster and more reliable than its predecessor. This increase in efficiency is attributed to ‘Multiple input multiple output’ data (MIMOs), which uses multiple antennas to enhance communication of both the transmitter and receiver. This allowed for significant increases in data without the need for higher bandwidth or transmit power.
The downside of 2.4 GHz having an extended range meant that an increasing number of devices (from baby monitors to Bluetooth) were using the same frequency, causing it to become overcrowded and slower. Consequently, 5Ghz became the more attractive option.
Introducing simultaneous dual-band routers
To solve this issue, dual-band routers were created. These routers contained two types of wireless radios that could simultaneously support connections on both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz links. By default, devices in the range of a dual-band router would automatically connect to the faster, more efficient 5GHz frequency. However, if a device was further away or behind walls, the 2.4Ghz could be used as a backup.
2014 – Introducing WiFi 5
Primarily known as WiFi 5, the 802.11ac protocol aimed to make the 5Ghz range better: it had four times the speed of WiFi 802.11n, a greater width, and the ability to support more antennas, meaning data could be sent more quickly. During this time we also saw the birth of the Beamforming concept, which is explained by Eric Geier as focusing signals and concentrating data transmission so that more data reaches the target device. He notes: ‘Instead of broadcasting a signal to a wide area, hoping to reach your target, why not concentrate the signal and aim it directly at the target?’
2019 – Highly anticipated WiFi 6
The way in which WiFi works fundamentally hadn’t changed in almost a decade, and neither had its purpose.
The highly anticipated release of WiFi 6 in 2019 promoted great promise for faster connectivity and linkup between technologies with speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps, which when compared to 3.5 Gbps on WiFi 5 shows an increase of almost 300%.
The reason for WiFi 6’s jump in speed capabilities is down to the technologies being used to mitigate the issues of becoming overwhelmed with the number of connected devices. WiFi 6 routers are also capable of communicating with more devices at once enabling routers to send data to multiple devices in the same broadcast.
What’s the difference? – WiFi 5 vs WiFi 6
As we’ve covered, in 2014 the WiFi 5 standard 802.11ac was introduced using the less congested 5GHz band which made displayed a huge improvement over the older heavily congested 2.4GHz band but with the newer WiFi 6 standard 802.11ax released in 2019 we saw a huge migration in our customer base to the new standard, so why is it better?
WiFi 6 was built from the ground up to support the IoT world we live in now providing support for more connected devices and preserving their battery life through power consumption.
Beyond that, the full benefits include faster speeds, better safety protocols, and backward compatibility. The real bonus for Purple customers though is the ability to onboard more connected devices through its expanded MU-MIMO (Multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology) support with lower latency speeds and providing the venue a robust WiFi experience for their users.
WiFi 6 is fast becoming the preferred standard for all WiFi networks, it does include a hardware upgrade but the benefits far outweigh the cost to entry as connectivity remains central to modern enterprises.
Looking to the future – WiFi 6e
WiFi 6e takes this a step further into the 6GHz band which is even less crowded than the previous ones offered and at the moment operates without interference or overlap, again the benefits here are less latency and of course faster speeds.
It’s still early for the WiFi 6e standard and the cost is still a little high but with the new frequency it brings it won’t be long before this standard starts to show more adoption.
WiFi Today and the Internet of Things
The use of WiFi today is summed up nicely by Rethink Wireless: “WiFi performance continues to improve and it’s one of the most ubiquitous wireless communications technologies in use today. It’s easy to install, simple to use, and economical too. WiFi Access Points are now set up at home and in public hotspots, giving convenient internet access to everything from laptops to smartphones. Encryption technologies make WiFi secure, keeping out unwanted intruders from these wireless communications.”
But WiFi is more about simply getting online to check email or browse social feeds. It has also enabled a mind-blowing number of consumer electronics and computing devices to become interconnected and exchange information – a phenomenon known as the Internet of Things.
According to Wi-FI.org, the IoT is “one of the most exciting waves of innovation the world has witnessed” and “its potential has only just begun to emerge.” WiFi-based businesses like Purple demonstrate just how much potential can be leveraged for businesses: with an ever-increasing amount of WiFi-enabled devices coming on the market, Purple allows its customers to gain incredibly thorough amounts of user data through the likes of location services, social login, and a wealth of digital marketing tools.
It’s clear that WiFi is no longer a one-way street – it has become an essential part of our personal and professional day-to-day and is constantly improving our efficiency, and our communication, and it persistently encourages the technology industry to push the boundaries of what’s possible.
All in all, the capabilities of WiFi are endless, and with the way things are going, we are incredibly excited to see what the future holds.