Why did WiFi win in the race for wireless access to networks?

Monday November 14, 2011,

3 min Read


After my previous rant on Apple, I thought I’ll stay light this time, and share some stuff on wireless!Can you try and remember the time, when there was no WiFi? The only way to access the network was to be tethered to a corner of your office with an Ethernet cable. At home, you could connect using a dial-up modem, or even better, DSL.

Possibility of accessing the internet on the move was to browse WAP sites on a micro-mini display. (Those were the times when a ‘color’ display was cool) – Your productivity was minimized to downloading some wallpapers or some ringtones. If God totally wanted to dump you, you would get strange ideas of tethering the phone to your computer and access internet (screaming in the background)

Coming back to WiFi, which seems quite the normal way to connect to your network, was not the default choice! Way back in 1998-2001, you would not believe that Bluetooth was touted as the alternative to WiFI. (WiFi, is actually name of the Forum that support Wireless LAN standard, technically, the IEEE 802.11 family of protocols)


So, why did WiFi win in the race for wireless access to networks? (Bluetooth did create its own market for peripherals, and created a niche in Personal Area Networks (PAN)) – The reason is because, WiFi seamlessly integrated into networking stack already built into computers (the OSI stack). So, the browser or any internet enabled application did not need to know if there was Ethernet or WiFi that was used to connect to the network. On the other hand, Bluetooth required a complete stack and the applications required to be Bluetooth ‘aware’So, quite naturally, 802.11 won! Now WiFi is ubiquitous in Laptops, Phones, Tablets, TVs, Blu-ray / DVD players and what not! WiFi has shrunk in size. Way back in 2000, you need to have big PCMCIA cards that you need to insert in your laptops to use WiFi – It used to look like this:


They’ve greatly shrunk in size, and grown less power thirsty over the years – So much that they get even embedded into phones! WiFi is now considered a default part of laptops and even desktops! (Pioneering work done by Intel and their ‘Free Radio Initiative’ that they launched early 2000s (2001/2002?) with their vision to add a PAN (Bluetooth), LAN (WiFi) and a WAN technologies along with their main processor. I think they’ve delivered most of what was promised! (WAN is work in progress, though!)So, why did I talk so much on WiFi? If you thought that 802.11 won because of their compatibility with existing equipment, you thought they’d extrapolate this and win on the WAN / Mobile Data side too? Hold on to your seats, and in the next part, I’ll talk about the story of Mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e)

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