In order to be an efficient troubleshooter of wireless internet, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of WiFi. Even if your know-how already goes a little beyond “restart the modem and see what happens,” learning some facts about the history and development of the technology, as well as the physical properties of WiFi, will help round out your skillset.
Here are five facts about WiFi that will help make your wireless work better, faster, and in more places.
1. It wasn’t always called WiFi.
Do you know what WiFi stands for? The most popular answer to that question is “wireless fidelity,” but that’s actually a misconception. The WiFi Alliance coined the term as a riff on “hi-fi” with the help of a branding agency (before they were named the WiFi Alliance, of course) to create a term that was more user-friendly and widely accepted than IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence. Only later did they develop a marketing slogan that included the phrase, “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity.” So, it’s not an acronym like WLAN and was generally just named that way to be catchy.
2. A Hollywood film actress helped invent WiFi.
Some point to WiFi getting its start when ALOHAnet connected the Hawaiian Islands with a UHF wireless packet network in 1971. Later, in the 80s, the FCC released the ISM radio band for unlicensed use, and during the 90s there was a wave of development that led to the 802.11 protocol, an early form of the wireless networking specification in use today.
But as you might’ve guessed, the technology underlying wireless networking started even farther back. In fact, Austrian-born film actress Hedy Lamarr was also an inventor who took part in developing “frequency hopping” technology for secret radio communications in 1942. It was given to the U.S. Navy and eventually became a core component of GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi technology.
3. Your own body can block WiFi. So can your microwave.
With effective router management for your home network, your signal can reach about 150 feet indoors. But you’re probably already aware that WiFi is very sensitive to interference. And it’s not just brick walls that can weaken your signal — it’s your own body! Water is a big barrier to WiFi, and since our bodies are made up primarily of water, you could be unknowingly blocking signals if you’re sitting between the router and your WiFi-enabled device.
Your microwave can interfere with WiFi, too, for a different reason. WiFi, especially when running on older equipment, operates on the same or a very similar frequency as microwave ovens. While your microwave is likely shielded enough that it won’t completely disrupt your signal, upgrading equipment and/or positioning your router in an appropriate location can help combat these types of interference.
4. There’s no scientific evidence to show that WiFi is bad for our health.
Every so often there’s another round of attention-grabbing headlines about the health dangers of WiFi. While worries are normal, and some people do report being negatively physically affected by WiFi radiation, no scientific evidence exists to show that WiFi can impact our health.
Research on radio waves and their effect on the body goes back decades, and based on that research, world health authorities have set safety limits for all our devices and items that emit frequencies. Further study will examine the long-term effects of low-level radiation from WiFi, but unless a causal link is discovered between WiFi and harm to our health, it’s safe to continue to connect.
5. As IoT proliferates, more and more items become WiFi connected — including trash cans and mirrors.
It wasn’t so long ago that WiFi didn’t come standard on our laptops and cell phones. Today, with the growth of IoT, more and more devices and everyday objects are WiFi-connected. What’s more, we continue to add WiFi connectivity to more and more components of our society’s infrastructure, like transportation systems and the energy grid. On the consumer and home front, we are now able to buy Alexa-connected salt shakers, smart trash cans that keep tabs on your trash, high-tech wearables for babies, and futuristic mirrors that tell you the time and weather. As companies like LG continue to develop and create connected devices, this is a WiFi trend that doesn’t look to be disconnecting anytime soon.
From Hollywood to smart homes, WiFi is more than just the way you get online. There’s always more to learn about the ubiquitous technology that helps us connect, work, and play, but we hope these five fun facts deepened your understanding of the history and development of WiFi.