Wi-Fi is one of the most popular modern technologies to come out in recent years. In areas known as “hotspots”, Wi-Fi works over short distances and lets people connect “wirelessly” to the internet easier than ever before. The tech is common in offices, public buildings, airports, cafes, homes and many other locations. It’s been suggested that there are over five billion devices all over the planet that use Wi-Fi. It was first created by a group of Australian scientists at the CSIRO.
Doctor John O’Sullivan came from a background in radio astronomy. In the early 1990s, he wanted to solve the issues of wireless networking using radio frequencies. Some communication companies had shown some progress in the area but nothing near the transfer speeds needed to be practical. O’Sullivan put together a team from a variety of fields: software engineering, signal processing and mathematics.
The problem with the concept of Wi-Fi at the time was reverberation. When data was transferred over radio signals, they bounced off different surfaces, caused an echo and were lost. The answer was found in an area of mathematics that was previously used to study black holes. By adding a Fast Fourier transform algorithm, radio frequencies were separated into specific tones and this saved the transfer from degrading. Wireless LAN (local area network) had been invented.
Wi-Fi was patented by the CSIRO in Australia in 1992 and then in the United States four years later. The technology entered the market in 2001 and legal issues soon followed. A number of large American companies—some of which included Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard—incorporated Wi-Fi into their product lines but refused to pay any royalties. The CSIRO won their first case in 2007 against Buffalo Technology but it wouldn’t be until 2012 when everything was finally resolved. A legal agreement was reached between the CSIRO and over twenty American companies, together who controlled over 90% of the communications industry. They collectively paid over $430 million for the lost revenue.
Doctor O’Sullivan and his team have been honoured with many awards for their Wi-Fi achievement: The Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, CSIRO Chairman’s Medal and the European Inventors Award, among others.
Photo Credit: Thank you to the CSIRO for allowing me to use their image (https://www.csiro.au/en/About/History-achievements/Top-10-inventions)
Bringing WiFi to the world (https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Technology/Telecommunications/Wireless-LAN)
How Australian engineers solved one of wireless networking’s biggest problems to make WiFi (https://www.createdigital.org.au/australian-engineers-solved-wireless-networkings-biggest-problems-make-wifi/)
How WiFi Works (https://computer.howstuffworks.com/wireless-network.htm)
Our top 10 inventions (https://www.csiro.au/en/About/History-achievements/Top-10-inventions)
WiFi – the Australian invention helping the world connect (https://www.sbs.com.au/news/explainer/wifi-australian-invention-helping-world-connect)
Wireless LANs (https://csiropedia.csiro.au/wireless-lans/)
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