The technology (802.11 protocol) commonly known as Wi-Fi was first incorporated into products in 1997 to enable a wireless connection between two devices enabled with the technology but was primarily used to wirelessly connect a device to a modem with an Internet connection. The maximum speed back then was a mear 2 Mbit/s, two years later in 1999 802.11b was introduced with a maximum link speed of 11 Mbit/s and it was around this time that the technology really began to gain in popularity.
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This was a time before high speed cable/fibre connectivity, the majority of people didn’t have Internet access at home, work and school, and if they did it was usually DSL or ‘dial-up’ Internet which was obtained by connecting a modem to a phone line and literally having to ‘connect’ to the World Wide Web, you have to remember that Google was only created in 1998 and before that there were no search engines, either you knew a website address or someone would tell you one, ‘surfing’ for websites did not exist. Therefore there was little demand for the Internet or WiFi.
The term ‘WiFi’ is brand name and not a technology in itself, it is merely a name given to the various forms of wireless data transmission by the WiFi Alliance in 1999 to incorporate and streamline the various forms of wireless data transmission.
In 2000 the Internet really began to take off, thousand of websites were created, information was abundantly available, the new ‘Search engines’ like Google, Yahoo and even Ask Jeeves became household names and competition was fierce, they spent millions on TV, radio and newspaper advertising, the thought of Google having to advertise on TV today is laughable. This decade also saw the end of the ‘Dot.com’ bubble, where businesses would sell their products online, having access to billions of customers worldwide they were valued at millions of dollars, of course this didn’t happen, especially as people were reluctant to send their credit card details over the Internet to a stranger half way round the world.
However the Internet continued to grow in popularity and the demand for easy access to the Internet access, and WiFi grew with it, WiFi was now a household name and Governments and local municipalities promised blanket coverage of towns and cities throughout the world. Some schemes were more successful than others, ‘City-WiFi’ became a buzzword with everyone expecting to have free 24 hour Internet access. In 2010 the Mayor of London said that the entire city would have free WiFi by 2012, this turned out to be less than true, even today in 2016 few City wide WiFi networks exist. City WiFi is at best patchy and limited, mobile data from cell phone towers still provides a more reliable, faster and secure access to the Internet. However the evolution of data hungry smartphones has meant that WiFi is more in demand than ever before with recent studies showing that the majority of smartphone use is done over WiFi.
Advancements in wireless data transmission (WiFi) has grown exponentially since 1997, especially in relation to data transmission speeds, back in 1997 it would be impossible to even load a simple webpage we are used to today, let alone online video and streaming services like YouTube and Netflix.
The new range of 802.11ac WiFi enabled routers and devices today can transmit an astonishing amount of data at incredible speeds of up to 1,300 Mbps (1.3Gbps), faster than most Internet connections, even Google’s Dark Fiber project which says it can deliver speeds of 1 Gigabit per second would leave some room for an upgrade!
However the most common WiFi standards which are fitted in to common devices like laptops, and smartphones like the iPhone are 802.11b (11Mbps), 802.11g (54Mbps) and 802.11n (600Mbps). It is not just routers, computers and smartphones which are fitted with WiFi capabilities today, the evolution of ‘smart’ televisions and even ‘smart’ white goods such as refrigerators, household lighting and heating can now be controlled over the Internet via WiFi from anywhere in the world from a smartphone. Driver-less car manufactures are also exploring the use of wireless data to monitor and control their new vehicles.
City WiFi projects have even seen a resurgence with the installation of ‘smart meters’, electricity and water meters which are able to be read by utility companies without entering a customers home, due to their connection to the Internet they may also double as a WiFi Hotspot, this approach has been contested by many people due to health and security concerns and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as offering free WiFi access has a direct impact on their business.
Since 1997 the world of technology has changed beyond recognition, you might not have noticed it as it has become so commonplace or you may have grown up with it, but can you imagine using a paper map to find a bar, hotel or friends new address? Researching a product you want to buy, speaking to a friend half way round the word in real time or discovering an abundant amount of information on a topic you have just learned of is only made possible with the Internet and WiFi.
The Internet and WiFi has created so many opportunities, bringing University standard education to millions, revolutions to oppressed peoples where the Internet was pivotal to the ‘Arab Spring’, opened the world’s eyes to the horrors in places such as Syria and the people who die crossing the Mediterranean Sea trying to escape it, created ‘Internet millionaires’ but has also been the death nail to many institutions such as libraries, offline stores and professionals who’s services would have only been accessible without the Internet.
As 2016 begins the demand will only grow for the Internet and WiFi access as millions of WiFi enabled products are given as presents at Christmas and so will the demand for affordable or free WiFi.