Photo courtesy of Flickr: Sean MacEntee
It's extremely difficult to credit any single individual or inventor with the creation of the wireless router and the WiFi wireless Internet-transmission standard. These inventions have become such a pervasive part of everyday life, though, that most computer and mobile-device users take it granted, and rarely – if ever – consider what WiFi is or how wireless routers, working in conjunction with WiFi signals and computing hardware, deliver wire-free Internet access. Some users might even mistake the oft asked question, "Do you have WiFi?" as another way of asking "Do you have the Internet?" While the two are indeed intricately related, however, it's quite possible to log onto the Internet without WiFi, but quite impossible to use WiFi without a wired Internet connection.
What Is a Router?
Computer routers have been around since the Internet's inception. In fact, the Internet couldn't exist without them. Simply stated, a traditional, wired router is any device that connects computer networks together or that connects a single computer to one or more networks. A home-based Internet router connecting a private residence to the Internet is probably the simplest example of a router. In the business world, however, large, far-more complicated routers are used to create and connect various networks.
What is a Wireless Router?
A wireless router is, again, simply stated, a special type router that connects one or more computers or computer networks to other computers or computer networks. Most often, wireless routers connect individual computers – PCs and mobile devices – to the internet without the use of wires.
How Does a Wireless Router Work?
Keeping with a theme of simplicity, a wireless router is, in essence, a miniature radio station and miniature radio-signal receiver all in one. Instead of broadcasting your favorite local radio station, however, a wireless router transmits streams – or packets – of data. That data is received and deciphered by a radio receiver built into your computer or mobile device, which displays the data on your screen as internet content. Your computer also contains a transmitter, which streams data back to the router in a process known as upstream and downstream communication. The router, in turn, draws broadcasted Internet data from a hardwired Ethernet connection ported directly into the device.
What is WiFi?
WiFi is a popular means of connecting to the internet wirelessly using radio waves. The WiFi Alliance was formed in the 1990s to enforce and establish standards for wireless technology. The Alliance is a large consortium of companies which, as of 2012, included over 550 corporations. The Alliance pooled resources in the late 1990s to modify the 802.11 wireless-transmission signal-and-receiver protocol standard developed by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Many have mistakenly dubbed "WiFi" as short for "wireless fidelity," but this is simply not the case. According to one source, in the early public-awareness campaigns of the new WiFi wireless standard, the Alliance used the tagline "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity," and the term was born and quickly propagated. In actuality, however, the term "WiFi" is basically meaningless and was chosen for its phonetic similarities to "hi-fi," which the Alliance hoped would make the term more relatable and accessible to consumers to whom they wanted to sell the new standard. WiFi then, is a protocol of radio signals and receivers for sending and receiving wireless internet transmissions.
Who invented WiFi and the Wireless Router?
The answer to this question is complicated, as individuals and groups alike are credited with major contributions to various essential elements of WiFi and wireless routers. In other words, in regards to WiFi and wireless routers, there's no Edison-like equivalent – a single individual who can be solely credited with these inventions. Below is a brief list of individuals frequently cited for their contributions to the development of WiFi and wireless router technology:
- Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf – Engineer and Computer Scientist Bob Kahn, and his partner, Computer Scientist Vint Cerf, invented both the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol, the two of which comprise the essential communication standards underlying the operation of the Internet. One could legitimately argue these two gentlemen share a measure of credit for the invention of WiFi and of the wireless router.
- Vic Hayes – Engineer Vic Hayes is often credited as "The Father of WiFi." Hayes was the chair of the IEEE in 1997 and was instrumental in helping establish the 802.11 standard that would pave the way for modern WiFi. Hayes chaired the IEEE some 10 years, making refinements – both continual and critical – to the 802.11 standard and its network bandwidth. Hayes' legacy of continual refinement continues to this day, and one crucial factor to remember regarding WiFi standards and equipment is that the latest is truly the greatest with this technology.
- Dr. John O'Sullivan, Dr. Terry Percival, Mr. Diet Ostry, Mr. Graham Daniels and Mr. John Deane – In the 1990s, these gentlemen were part of a team of computer specialists working for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia that developed a revolutionary computer chip to improve WiFi signal quality. Their invention, born from CSIRO's cutting-edge research in radioastronomy, blunted echo distortions inherent in radio waves bouncing freely off common, everyday indoor surfaces. To this day, the CSIRO-developed technology is part of every WiFi wireless router in use.
Thanks to the contributions of these individuals and others, each time you log onto the web from your WiFi-enabled device – be it a game console, a PC, MAC, tablet, smartphone, camera, TV, Blu-Ray player or other Internet-capable gadget – a world of ever-increasing knowledge and information is instantly and perpetually at your fingertips.