Let me ask you a question: what does the name “Wi-Fi” mean? Given how ubiquitous Wi-Fi connections are, this should be an easy question to answer; especially if you work in the technical sector.
If your answer is “wireless fidelity” that is actually incorrect, despite what you were supposed to believe, so keep guessing. Could it be “wireless fiber”? “Wishful Firerake”?
Giving up? It’s actually a trick question: the name means nothing.
A old interview from 2005 (opens in new tab) with one of the founding members of the Wi-Fi Alliance makes the rounds again, telling the origin story of Wi-Fi. According to founder Phil Belanger, the name was chosen from a group of ten names created by consultancy Interbrand.
The original name for Wi-Fi was “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence” and the Alliance knew that name could not be used. They needed something more catchy if the standard were to be widely adopted, so “Wi-Fi” was chosen.
Mistakes have been made
If you honestly thought Wi-Fi stood for “wireless fidelity,” blame the Wi-Fi Alliance. Belanger says some of his colleagues felt the need to explain what “Wi-Fi” meant because they apparently couldn’t understand that the name was just a marketing mumbo-jumbo meant to entice people. This led the Alliance to create the slogan ‘The Standard for Wireless Fidelity’.
Belanger admits “this was a mistake and only served to confuse people…” He called it “a clumsy attempt to come up with two words that corresponded to wifi and fi.” This mistake was compounded when the Alliance printed hats and shirts with the slogan. The slogan was so successful that even people in the US military called it “wireless fidelity.” (opens in new tab).
And if you think about it, that name doesn’t make any sense either. Fidelity technically refers to how well a device can reproduce a signal. For example, high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) TVs can reproduce images that could be mistaken for real. But wifi doesn’t; it’s just a way to connect devices together. You are not reproducing anything.
But why do facts get in the way of a popular misconception? In the nearly two decades since, people have embraced the imprecise meaning and, if you ask them, they’d probably strenuously argue that Wi-Fi means “wireless fidelity.” However, Belanger asks people to do their part and “forget the slogan” and its false meaning.
Perhaps it is better to focus less on the meaning of the term than on what the technology means to us.
Wi-Fi is an integral part of society and it’s hard to imagine a life without it. How many times have we asked a friend what the wifi password is when you first go to their house? And many of us get frustrated when the Wi-Fi suddenly drops out.
If you often experience disconnections, we recommend that you: Wifi extenders. These devices, known as boosters, push the signal out of the normal range. You should also look into getting a high quality router to better deal with multiple devices that require a large portion of the bandwidth.
Looking ahead, multiple companies are hard at work to establish the Wi-Fi 7 standard. Qualcomm even claims its Wi-Fi 7-compatible chip will be able to achieve speeds of 5.8 Gbps and latency of less than 2 milliseconds. And Mediatek promises that its Wi-Fi 7 platform will reach speeds 100 times faster than the current UK broadband standard.