What Does WiFi Stand For? Understanding Its Name and History

Marketing 10 minute read 3rd April 2024

There was a time when people had to wait in lines to use the Internet. Even when their turn came, there was no guarantee about its speed or bandwidth. Now that there’s WiFi, we’re able to use the Internet as easily as if it was water or electricity. But have you ever stopped to wonder, “What does WiFi stand for?”

If you have, you might have found some conflicting information regarding this subject. But that’s about to change because this article will clear all your confusion by debunking some misconceptions.

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What Does WiFi Stand For?

Well, WiFi doesn’t stand for anything. Yes, you heard that right. WiFi is not an acronym. People often hear about Wireless Fidelity when they ask, “What does WiFi stand for?” But the truth isn’t as simple as that.

So, what is WiFi short for? That is a trademarked name for a wireless networking standard. To make this clear, let’s look at the details.

Back in 1999, Wi-Fi Alliance wanted an easy and memorable name to market their wireless standard. After all, they were going to launch wireless networking technology for the public.

Making people say “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence” every time they wanted to talk about this technology wouldn’t have worked. It wasn’t memorable, and people wouldn’t have understood it.

Therefore, they hired a marketing agency called Interband to develop a marketing term. They presented Wi-Fi Alliance with ten options, one of which was “WiFi.

One reason for this term was that people were already familiar with Hi-Fi, which stands for high fidelity. Plus, since the hiring organization also had Wi-Fi in its name, there couldn’t have been a better choice.

So, they chose this name, but the fact that it didn’t have a meaning bothered the board members. Moreover, they wanted to explain the name that Internband had invented for them. Owing to these reasons, they included the tagline “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity.”

However, this was only during the early days of WiFi before this term became synonymous with the Internet.

WiFi Is Not Internet

WiFi is different from the Internet. But if you think it’s the same, you’re not alone. The use of WiFi for getting online is so widespread that people have started confusing the two.

They use these words interchangeably, thinking they’re synonyms of each other when, in reality, they’re not.

The Internet globally connects devices and servers, allowing them to communicate with each other using standardized protocols.

So, what is WiFi? WiFi is a wireless network that uses radio waves to connect you to the Internet without cables. However, other ways to connect to the Internet also exist, such as wired networks. That clearly proves that WiFi and the Internet are not the same thing. While the Internet gets you online, WiFi is only one of the ways to access it.

Besides, the Internet connects devices from all over the world. WiFi only connects devices within its range to the Internet.

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From 1903 to 1997: A Brief History Lesson on WiFi

Now that you know WiFi doesn’t stand for anything, let’s go back in time to understand its history. But first, you should know it wasn’t a single person’s creation, and you’ll see why in a second.

In 1903, Nikola Tesla developed the concept of hopping frequencies. This is the primary technology in WiFi, but nothing came of it.

Next, Hedy Lemarr and George Antheil created a communication system they named “frequency hopping.” This concept later proved fruitful in making WiFi connections more secure.

But the WiFi we know today was actually an accidental discovery. John O’Sullivan invented WiFi while studying black holes when he came across weak radio signals. He developed a tool with his team that could decrease the universe’s echo to filter out clear radio waves.

Later, he used this tool to create a wireless communication system. In 1997, Vic Hayes and his committee members created the IEEE 802.11 standards that we know today. In the same year, consumers got WiFi access, making Vic Hayes the “father of WiFi.” But as you saw, WiFi was a collective effort.

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How Does WiFi Work?

Simply put, WiFi works through radio waves that permit the transmission of data. However, the actual working process is quite complicated.

So, how does WiFi work? It all starts when you, as a user, perform an action on your WiFi-enabled device. Almost all modern devices with the WiFi feature also have a built-in wireless adaptor to send and receive radio signals. Without this adapter, you might not be able to use WiFi.

When you perform an action, the adapter translates your request into radio signals. Otherwise, your WiFi router won’t be able to understand the request.

Next, it sends the radio signals to your router at a set frequency. Almost every router allows you to control the frequency, either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz WiFi. 2.4 GHz favors range over speed, while 5 GHz favors speed over range. The router will use the frequency you have set.

Once the signals reach the router, an antenna receives them. Now, it’s time to decode the radio signals that the device’s adapter translated. For this, the router sends the signals to a modem.

It carries out the modulation-demodulation process, which converts digital signals to analog and analog signals to digital. This process is necessary to efficiently transmit and receive signals among the devices in a WiFi network architecture.

Basically, the modem connects to your ISP’s network architecture through an Ethernet cable, which then connects to a wireless router. When you connect your devices to that router, you get a wireless internet connection or WiFi.

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What To Expect From WiFi in the Future

So, what does WiFi stand for? As we’ve found out, WiFi stands for nothing. It was a clever marketing technique by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

As for the future of WiFi, most modern routers use WiFi 6, making data transfer faster on download and upload. However, with the development of other industries, WiFi will evolve, too.

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