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The evolution of WiFi technologies

It has been a little over two decades since WiFi come into being and it is hard to imagine a world without it. WiFi has had a widespread impact on many areas of society since the first standard for WiFi (IEEE801.11) was introduced in 1997, delivering a speed of just 2Mbps. Today we are pushing gigabit speeds with lower latency, servicing multiple users by shaping the beams from the access points and we can even overlay a wired or wireless mesh network to turbocharge it.

Early 1990s
  • CSIRO’s (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) invention of WLAN (wireless local area network) is developed in Australia, and later granted a US patent in 1996. The hardware was initially very expensive, so it was primarily used as an alternative to cabled LAN in places where cabling was difficult or not possible.
  • WiFi is exported from the CSIRO to overseas, and the first standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is released. The introduction of IEEE802.11 offers a revolutionary speed of 2Mbps using the 2.4GHz spectrum. This standard uses a transmission technique developed in 1941 called “Spread Spectrum”, which transmits over multiple frequencies to reduce interference
  • Apple introduce WiFi as an option on its computers under the AirPort® brand.
  • A group of companies create the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) to ensure true compatibility between manufacturers.
  • IEEE releases 802.11b, a new standard with speeds up to 11Mbps, still using the 2.4Ghz frequency spectrum i with the Spread Spectrum transmission technique ii.
  • IEEE releases 802.11a, working in the 5GHz frequency range, using Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) iii.
  • Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is introduced.
  • WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) is introduced to the market, making it possible to create a secure wireless home network using a simple one click setup.
  • After many iterations, such as 802.11j, 802.11p and 802.11y, we see the introduction of 802.11n working in both 2.4 and 5GHz, using not only OFDM, but MIMO iv and getting speeds of up to 450Mbps in perfect conditions.
  • CSIRO Australia wins a $200 million settlement in a lawsuit against major companies such as Nintendo, HP and Microsoft, based on its 1996 patent in the US (its wireless invention was developed in the 1990s, and subsequently licensed to various companies globally).
  • The beamforming concept is introduced. It allows a more targeted connection between the WiFi access point and the device connecting to it.
  • CSIRO Australia receives a further $229 million from its lawsuit, with the total settlement being estimated at over $1 billion.
  • The WiFi Alliance looks at developing multi-gigabit per second speeds, using the 60GHz class licensed spectrum (also known as millimetre wave).
  • 802.11ac breaks the speed barrier, delivering speeds beyond 1Gbps using the 5GHz frequency band.
  • MU-MIMO (Multiple User-Multiple input and multiple output) wireless technology is released to support multiple antennas. It allows several devices to share bandwidth over multiple streams in order to minimise congestion.
  • Google releases a mesh capable wireless system. This allows three Wireless Access Points throughout a premises to function as one seamless device.
  • Standard IEEE802.11ah is introduced to support IoT and power efficient smart home devices for digital healthcare, industrial, retail and agricultural purposes, working in the 900MHz range. This is low bit rate covering a much larger footprint than previous versions.
  • Companies begin announcing their chips for the upcoming WiFi 6, also known as IEEE802.11ax, which is designed to increase capacity, battle wireless congestion in crowded areas, provide faster data transfer rates and improve power efficiency

Households continue to demand faster speeds while using their home internet, whether it is for video calls to distant relatives, online gaming or streaming content in multiple rooms – often all at once. We have seen WiFi continuously evolve from just 2Mbps to gigabits per second, supporting multiple users across various frequency ranges, and this evolution is set to continue into the future.

Many people are turning to mesh networks to increase reliability and performance, as they allow multiple devices to not only share the same frequency spectrum effectively across a large physical space, but also cooperate with each other to efficiently route data throughout larger homes. As users begin to demand more from their wireless devices, cablers are installing multiple wireless access points (WAPs) throughout their homes as part of these mesh networks. While WAPs can be costly, they offer another location for devices to connect to. These connected devices will automatically select an access point depending on signal strength. WAPs allow more devices, such as smart phones, tablets, laptops, to be using the same SSID (network name) on their local area network simultaneously. Additionally, WAP connections use the 60GHz frequency range, providing much higher speeds of up to several gigabits per second. There is a growing demand for professional cablers to install and configure these high performance WAP points wherever they are needed.

i The 2.4Ghz frequency spectrum is used under a class license, which allows multiple users to share the spectrum within maximum power limits. However, there can be a high chance of interference due to the minimal regulations on the devices while using this spectrum.

ii Spread spectrum is where the signal is spread over a range of frequencies to reduce the impact of interference.

iii OFDM is one of the most common transmission techniques used in DSL, 4G/5G and WiFi, as it provides a increased efficiency and is significantly more immune to high frequency attenuation and multi-path propagation.

iv MIMO (Multiple input and multiple output) is a technique that allows the capacity of a radio link to be multiplied. It does this by exploiting multi-path propagation using multiple transmit and receive antennas.

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