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who invented wifi?

I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t Al Gore, even though he claimed to invent the internet this world-changing technology was actually invented by an Aussie. That’s right Australia invented Wi-Fi. 

WiFi is a global standard for wireless local area networks in the 2.4, 3.6 and 5 GHz frequency bands with data rates of 1 Mbit/s to 54Mbit/s using IEEE 802.11 standards (with various extensions such as 802.11n). The international version of WiFi has been standardised by the International Telecommunications Union as part of Recommendation ITU-R F.1300 series and was originally conceived by John O’Sullivan in 1985. In 1999, CSIRO invented an open specification for a wireless LAN system called WLAN which used the same basic technology but operated within a different set of frequencies according to the 802.11b standard, which it had been developing for three years.

The name WiFi (pronounced “we-fee”) is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry trade group, used to enforce branding rights. However, as this term is used in common parlance and also because it has become an integral part of generic trademarks like Kleenex or Coke, many establishments use the term to describe not only wireless LAN systems conforming to IEEE 802.11 but other more general wireless local area network systems as well.

Dr John O’Sullivan was the driving force behind WiFi.

He was passionate about wireless technology and had a vision for how to solve the problem of extending Internet access in homes over unlicensed frequency bands that were already in use for cordless telephones and other wireless devices.

Dr O’Sullivan’s research group demonstrated ‘basic wireless networking’ at CSIRO using spread spectrum radio technology. Spread spectrum is a technique of transmitting data on many frequencies within a band (of the order 100 MHz)  within which no single signal stands out above others. In this way, interference between signals can be avoided without reducing the overall bandwidth available for carrying data. Using spread spectrum techniques, interference caused by adjacent channels does not affect any particular channel because they are separated by a sufficient frequency gap.

Dr O’Sullivan’s group followed this up with the design and development of ‘high rate wireless’ technology that allowed transmission speeds of 11 Mbit/s to be achieved, making them ahead of any other research groups in the world at that time.  By 1997 CSIRO had also developed the first prototype outdoor wireless access point (a device commonly known as an AP). This was built by Harold Fenton and Oliver Borthwick. The work was extended into a collaborative project in 1999 by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou working with Dr John O’Sullivan. Their objective was to develop an affordable pre-standard wireless device for home use. The result was what we now know as WiFi.

In 1999, in collaboration with Lucent Technologies Bell Labs and Intel Corporation, CSIRO created an open specification for a wireless local area network (LAN) using the 802.11a/b/g media access control protocol. The first products based on this specification were made commercially available in June 2003 by Agere Systems under its Orinoco brand, followed by Lucent following with its ‘WaveLAN’ product line. Accounting for much of the $US5 billion (£3.2bn) global WiFi market, these products are now among the world’s most successful networking technologies.

CSIRO remains committed to ongoing research and development in the mobile networking field, both at its Wireless National Research Centre headquarters in Brisbane and at its specialist facilities in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as carrying out research on new wireless technologies.  The organisation has a broad range of technology platforms, including close collaborations with industry leaders such as Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent and Telstra.

CSIRO is also one of only three organisations in the world licensed to operate a mobile network on the 700 MHz band. This spectrum, soon to be released as part of Australia’s digital dividend, is globally considered ‘prime real estate’  for wireless broadband use. CSIRO has been doing research on this band for more than 15 years and is uniquely positioned to help Australia deliver competitive 4G services internationally.”

What is The CSIRO?

The CSIRO is a world-leading scientific research organisation.  With more than 5000 scientists and support staff located across Australia and overseas, the CSIRO works to solve important problems for Australian industry and help keep Australians safe.

CSIRO has offices in all Australian capital cities as well as in Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the United States of America. In collaboration with universities, other government agencies and private industry, CSIRO develops sustainable solutions to agricultural challenges through its agricultural breakthroughs program, tackles water sustainability issues through WaterforSustainability (formerly known as Water Futures), provides advice on possible energy solutions through EnergyforSustainability, helps manage major environmental risks via the LandandWaste stream, among many others.

CSIRO also conducts more than 70 per cent of the world’s research into solar energy and is a leading contributor to Australia’s knowledge base on agricultural, food and water resources.”   I could not agree more…one of the best organisations in the world! Who invented WiFi? Well, CSIRO!

The only question that remained was how much did they charge for this invention…which is another story altogether. One thing I do know is that we have been missing out on a lot as Australians with all these wonderful products being introduced to us so late. We will now be able to take advantage of what has been done around the world..and at home!

What’s Next For Wifi?

We cannot move ahead without thanking the many pioneers that have helped shape WiFi into what we know today.  I invite everyone to send us stories of those unsung heroes that shaped Wifi.

What’s next for WiFi? Well, the IEEE is currently working on 802.11ax which promises a lot more reliable speeds…and the difference between 100Mbps and 1Gbps as well!

Keep watching this space for more development over here…this is going to be one hot topic!

The CSIRO has announced another news about indoor mapping using wifi signals and in doing so have called out “Google’s Project-Fi”…which I believe had already been tested out in Australia around a few years back.

The idea is pretty interesting and with more development, the wireless signals will not just be limited to smartphones…but also help smart cities and homes.   Collecting data in real-time would allow system providers to better monitor and maintain their assets which can lead to better services for users.  Imagine if you could simply look up on your smartphone whether a train was delayed or not!  That’s the exact reason why Google bought WifiSlam, which had similar ideas as Project-Fi by using wifi signals as an indoor positioning system>..which we are privy to today via Apple iBeacon. When this happens, it will be game-changing for all of us! We have been saying that WiFi has reach (distribution), it is now time for WiFi to be able to do things we have always dreamed of…and when you think about it, there are a lot! The possibilities today are only limited by our imagination..and technology!

What’s Next For Smart Cities?

“Australia has the opportunity to become a global leader in 5G wireless technologies. “The country’s vast size, dispersed population and geography make the development of this new generation of mobile telecommunications vital,” said Yang Huanming, director-general of CSIRO’s ICT Centre.”   5G will be much faster than what 4G offers us …I hope all telcos around Australia take note and start working on 5G solutions for us.  From a business point of view, I can already see a lot of opportunities for companies to provide services that leverage 5G…whether they be small or big.

You could have your own virtual office in Tokyo with streaming video and audio at blazing speeds!  How cool is that?!

As the capabilities of Wifi expand..we will also see more devices being able to use WiFi on their own without any tethering (i.e. smartphones, tablets etc) which will allow us to cut the cost of our monthly bills as well…great stuff and we haven’t even begun! “The CSIRO’s national research infrastructure facility operates nationwide, providing equipment and expertise into data networking applications.”   This is yet another step in the right direction for Australia.  CSIRO is doing us proud!

How It Works: The WiFi system is comprised of several key components including a transmitter, which converts data into radio-frequency signals for transmission, and a receiver that decodes the information back into digital form. Other technologies are available to deliver wireless internet access but Wi-Fi has proven to be the most popular option worldwide because it’s so simple and reliable. A single base station can serve hundreds or even thousands of end-users.”   What we need here in Australia…is some regulation on who will roll out these wireless networks around each area…which I believe will soon happen with NBN Co’s FttN network..as well as private telcos that would want to build their own networks.

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Jason Kearney

Jason Kearney


Jason is the head technician and founder of SECURE A COM. He has worked in the industry since 1998. Working on Telstra infrastructure projects, install and maintenance contracts, and now runs SECURE A COM servicing  B2B and B2C customers.

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