Wi-Fi was born in 1985 after the United States FCC opened up the wireless frequencies 900Mhz, 2.4Ghz, and 5.8Ghz to be used without a license. These radio bands were used by household appliances such as microwaves, and were assumed to have no practical application in communications due to interference from the aforementioned appliances. To make these frequencies usable for communication, the FCC mandated usage of spread spectrum technology over these bands.
Wireless Local Area Network Technology
Around the same time as WiFi, WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) technology emerged, but the technology was proprietary, so wireless devices from one manufacturer wouldn’t work with technology from another. However, in 1988, the NCR Corporation wanted a WLAN standard for use in their wireless cash registers and turned to Victor Hayes, author of many of their data transfer standards. Hayes, along with Bruce Tuch, a Bell Labs engineer, asked the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) for assistance in utilizing these frequencies for a WLAN standard. A committee was created - with the incredibly catchy title “802.11” - to develop this standard. Nine years later, in 1997, the standard was published and named after the committee.
The Beginnings of Wi-Fi
The 802.11 standard was capable of transmitting data at a speed of only two megabits per second but was quickly enhanced. In 1999, a faster version called 802.11a was released, offering a speed of fifty-four megabits per second but with limited range and high production cost. Later in that same year, 802.11b was released, which brought Wi-Fi into the mainstream with its cheap production cost and greater range.
The sudden popularity of wireless networking created a flood of new 802.11b hardware on the market, but there was no way to ensure compatibility between devices from different manufacturers. In 1999, a group of six companies banded together to create the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, or WECA, an organization that aimed to test Wi-Fi equipment for compatibility. In 2002, they coined the term "Wi-Fi", combining "Wireless" and "Hi-Fi" (a term used in the music industry as an abbreviation of High Fidelity), and renamed themselves Wi-Fi Alliance.
And Then There was Wireless-N…
Wireless-N (802.11n) was released in 2009, and was the first to operate on two bands (2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz), which explains the term dual band router. What made Wireless-N significant is that it increased the maximum data transmission rate more than tenfold from 54 Mbps to 900 Mbps.
Wireless-N also opened up additional spectrum area for wireless transmission, allowing for the use of four spatial streams in a channel width of 40 MHz. That is double the channel width of Wireless-G. 802.11n standardized support/technical specifications for multiple-input multiple-output (AKA MIMO). It also increased security and improved several additional features.