Who Invented WIFI? Here Is the Entire Story

Marketing 17 minute read 20th April 2023

Did you know an actress was the one who invented WiFi? She did not entirely invent it, but she laid the foundation of the secure WiFi we know today.

The mechanisms and technologies behind WiFi are complex. Various people brought forward different ideas; some still need to get credit for them! All of these ideas combined make the WiFi we use today.

This article helps you discover the history of WiFi. It goes back to 1903 and stops in 2024.

Who Invented WIFI? Was It Hedy Lamarr?

who invented wifi

Let’s begin the story of “Who invented WiFi.” Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress. Her discovery became the basis for WiFi. Due to this, the world knows her as the mother of WiFi. Lamarr was always an inventor by heart.

During World War II, Lamarr met George Antheil, who shared her love for inventions. They teamed up to help with the war and created a new communication system called “frequency hopping.”

They were hoping to help torpedoes reach their intended target without detection. This idea involved the torpedo’s transmitter and receiver changing their radio frequencies in coordination. Their idea laid the foundation for the frequencies of WiFi.

This hopping made it difficult for enemies to intercept and decode the radio waves. While the idea was genius, the US Military decided against launching it then. This was why it remained hidden for so long. However, both Lamarr and Antheil received awards for their discovery.

During the war, Lamarr’s idea did not find an actual application, however, it laid the foundation for the concepts of WiFi frequencies.

The Debate for Who Invented WiFi Goes Back to 1903

who invented wifi

According to many, we should consider Nikola Tesla as the person who invented WiFi. He introduced the concept of hopping frequencies in 1903, before Lamarr and Antheil. But nothing came out of it at that time.

After Tesla, a German radio pioneer Jonathan Zenneck worked on hopping frequencies in 1915. This time, the Germans used it to prevent the British forces from listening to their communications during World War I. But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Because the next person to work on this idea was Polish inventor Leonard Danilewicz during the 1930s.

Does it stop there? No, because there is one more person on the list. Ray Zinn, an American entrepreneur, also worked on this idea. He devised a technique enabling radio devices to operate without requiring synchronization between the receiver and transmitter.

So, while the public discovered Lamarr’s invention, this idea had been around for quite some while. It just didn’t make the news back then.

But the initial invention of WiFi is even more interesting because some people believe that, as the greatest invention in the world, it was an accident.

How Stephen Hawking Inspired the Invention of WiFi

Hedy Lemarr and George Antheil gave the foundation of WiFi by providing a way to communicate in unbreakable code. But the one who invented WiFi was John O’Sullivan. While it wasn’t technically an accident, he developed WiFi’s underlying technology while trying to do something else.

Stephen Hawking’s theory about evaporating black holes and their radio waves fascinated O’Sullivan. Therefore, he wanted to prove this theory when he found some weak signals.

He discovered that these signals were difficult to distinguish from the ambient radio noise of the universe. Radio waves bounced off surfaces which caused reverberation. It is a problem where an echo distorts the radio waves.

This meant these signals were recognizable before the distortion at some point in space. O’Sullivan wanted to study these signals further. So, with his team, he started the invention of a tool. This tool could reduce the echo and filter out clear radio waves from space.

While this was a substantial inventory, they couldn’t find a black hole’s radio waves. So, this research halted, and a new search began. This is where the story of the WiFi we know today begins.

John O’Sullivan and the Csiro Members: The Team Who Invented WiFi

who invented wifi

Continuing the journey of who invented WiFi, here’s the part where it starts to get real. In 1992, John O’Sullivan was a part of the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.) He and his team faced the challenge of creating a wireless communication system.

They had to reduce reverberation, which made portable computing problematic. Waves from devices bounced off and caused unclear reception. The team included O’Sullivan, Dr. Terry Percival, John Deane, Graham Daniels, and Diethelm Ostry. They had to transfer large quantities of data.

They had to figure out how to create small portions of this data, transmit it to multiple radio frequencies at once, and then reassemble it at the receiver. That was when he felt a sense of déjà vu. He remembered the previous tool based on a mathematical formula, Fourier Transform, which could strip down and reassemble cosmic radio waves.

He used the same mathematical formula to create high-powered versions of radio waves. This led to the invention of the Fast Fourier Transform computer chip, which made wireless communications possible.

O’Sullivan’s team created the first “high rate wireless,” which could transmit data at 11 Mbit/s. These inventions and discoveries led to wireless LAN and WAN development.

Who Invented WiFi and How Has It Evolved?

While many people and organizations were involved, the person who contributed the most to the WiFi we know today is Vic Hayes. Many consider Hayes, who invented WiFi and call him “the father of WiFi.

He was the committee chairman that created IEEE 802.11 standards in 1997. This standard had a 2.4 frequency band, 22 bandwidth, and 2 Mbps maximum throughput. Since then, it has gone from IEEE 802.11 to WiFi 6E in 2020. These standards could make WiFi feasible. In 1985, Hayes could use two modulation techniques, frequency hopping and direct sequence.

Frequency hopping needed to be more robust, and the direct sequence required many chips. After the vote, it became clear that he would have to use both. But they were not compatible with each other. So, in 1999, he extended the standard. He added orthogonal frequency division multiplexing with a five times higher data rate. IEEE contributions are shaping the future of WiFi.

What Were the Technologies Prior to WIFI?

who invented wifi

Several other technologies were in play before the widespread adoption of wireless networking technology. So, after the story of who invented WiFi, let’s look at the technologies existing before WiFi.

  1. Ethernet uses cables, switches, and routers to connect devices and transmit data packets between them.
  2. Dial Up Modems: They helped people connect to the internet via telephone. They converted digital data from computers into analog signals. It had slow data transfer rates and limited mobility and flexibility.
  3. Infrared (IR): It uses infrared light waves to transmit data between devices. Its limitations include short range and line of sight communication.
  4. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that connects devices in a short range. It enables personal area networking (PAN.)
  5. Token Ring: It was a networking technology used in the 1980s and 1990s. It used a ring topology and tokens to control access to the network. It passed a physical token between devices, allowing them to transmit data when they possessed the token.

When Did WiFi 6 Come Out?

who invented wifi

Along with who invented WiFi, another common question is, “When did WiFi 6 come out?” WiFi 6 came out in 2019, and its IEEE standard is 802.11ax. It works in 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands. It has 20, 40, 80, and 160 bandwidths. Its maximum throughput is 9.6 Gbps.

Then comes WiFi 6E, which is almost the same as WiFi 6 with a slight difference. It also has a frequency band of 6 GHz in addition to 2.4 and 5. This is the latest technology that we are using to access the internet. What’s more? WiFi 7 will come out in 2024 with a maximum throughput of 46.1 Gbps!

What Were the People Who Invented WiFi Trying To Solve?

who invented wifi

Everyone who invented WiFi was trying to solve a problem. Hedy Lamarr wanted to help the Americans in World War II. She wanted to create a secret communication system to prevent jamming the US Navy’s radio signals. Jonathan Zenneck wished to help the Germans in World War I.

The first time John O’Sullivan wanted to prove Stephan Hawking’s black hole theory. The second time, John O’Sullivan and his team wanted to eliminate reverberation and create a system for wireless communication. They tried to eradicate the wired systems and increase the data transfer speed.

Vic Hayes wanted to create a system that could help cashier systems. Experts consider this system, IEEE 802.11, the original wireless internet standard. All the later versions tried to increase the existing standards’ speed and bandwidth. They wanted to enhance the users’ browsing experience. Authorities are and will continue to improve WiFi speeds and bandwidth.

Is the Person Who Invented WiFi a Billionaire?

As stated earlier, it wasn’t a single company or person who invented WiFi. Many scientists brought forward different ideas that formed the technology we know today. If we take Hedy Lamarr’s invention, the US government did not accept its petition then. Later they used it in the 1960s, but Lamarr didn’t receive any compensation.

This was because her patent had expired when they decided to use it. Moving on, John O’Sullivan and his team gave a crucial concept for WiFi. But at the end of the day, they were CSIRO’s employees. So, the credit went to the company.

That is also a fascinating story because CSIRO tried to sell the concept to big companies like Apple, HP, etc. But it didn’t succeed in getting a part. So, it filed cases against companies using the concept and won. As a result, it received millions of dollars.

While O’Sullivan didn’t become a billionaire, he received a bonus from CSIRO and $300,000 from the Prime Minister’s Science Prize. The same goes for Vic Hayes. He was a part of the IEEE Computer Society. So, all contributions he made belonged to IEEE. He received numerous awards and became a millionaire.

Who Invented WiFi And What Is the Difference With the Internet?

Now that you know who invented WiFi, here is a question for you. Are WiFi and the Internet the same thing?

While related, they are not the same thing. WiFi is short for Wireless Fidelity, a wireless local area network (WLAN) technology. It allows devices to connect and communicate with each other wirelessly within a limited range.

It uses radio waves to transmit data. It requires a router or access point connected to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) modem. WiFi is a means to access the Internet. On the other hand, the Internet is a global network of interconnected computer networks.

It is a vast collection of servers, routers, switches, and other networking equipment. Wires and wireless technologies connect this equipment. The Internet is an infrastructure that allows devices to connect and communicate with each other worldwide.

What Can We Learn From This Story on Who Invented WIFI?

It wasn’t a single person who invented WiFi. Hedy Lamarr, John O’Sullivan, and his team, Vic Hayes, all played a role in the invention of WiFi. Many companies were trying to come up with a wireless communication system. But O’Sullivan’s team was the fastest and created the best idea.

This wonderous technology is still advancing, and new changes are improving capacity and speed.

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