Milestone-Proposal talk:The birth of WiFi

Revision as of 01:29, 3 March 2016 by Bberg (talk | contribs) (Current Proposal Only Tells Part of the Story of Wi-Fi -- ~~~~: new section)
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Advocates and reviewers will post their comments below. In addition, any IEEE member can sign in with their ETHW login (different from IEEE Single Sign On) and comment on the milestone proposal's accuracy or completeness as a form of public review.

Current Proposal Only Tells Part of the Story of Wi-Fi -- Bberg (talk) 19:29, 2 March 2016 (CST)

I am submitting these comments on behalf IEEE Member Darwin Engwer, whose bio follows these comments.

I add the comment that "WiFi" in this proposal title should be corrected to be "Wi-Fi" - Brian Berg, Region 6 Milestone Coordinator and Proposer for the EEPROM, Macintosh and "Shakey the Robot" Milestone submissions.


IEEE Std. 802.11, the technology upon which Wi-Fi is based, is certainly worthy of recognition. Wi-Fi has changed the world and is now a staple of modern society, like access to water/sewer and electricity. The development of such a far-reaching technology warrants a tribute.

In my opinion, this particular proposal is not the best path to a befitting Milestone as it only tells part of the story. It focuses mostly on one team from one company, and doesn't fully recognize the efforts and contributions from the scores of other people who participated in the development effort. The text of the proposal appears similar to a 2010 book about Wi-Fi primarily written and edited by members of the WaveLAN team at NCR/Lucent which is titled "The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi" and which can be previewed online at http://j.mp/wavelan-book

As an IEEE Milestone, it seems fitting to tell the story from an IEEE perspective. IEEE Std. 802.11 and Wi-Fi represent a grand accomplishment - no one person or development team can or should claim too much credit. The development of IEEE Std. 802.11 was an international effort, and several development teams contributed to the final standard.

Altogether about 100 individuals collaborated on the effort over a period of 7 years to create the initial standard, and another 2 years to develop the 802.11b amendment - which was the first technology branded as Wi-Fi, and subsequently widely distributed and used. The participants included network engineers, protocol designers, system engineers, radio engineers, digital electronic engineers, embedded systems engineers, system architects, mathematicians, standards specialists, academics, marketers and business executives.

Contributions came in many forms: a post-analysis of all the elements included in the final IEEE Std. 802.11 document would not capture the contributions of all the individuals and teams that were involved in the creation of the standard because sometimes a contribution took the form of helping the working group decide what to exclude from the document. Such whittling towards the final consensus document is a crucial part of the process of creating a standard within IEEE. Thus, each of those approx. 100 people contributed something to the completion of IEEE Std. 802.11. Through a process of iterative refinement, they collectively constructed the consensus represented in the final standard.

The IEEE Std. 802.11 development effort was noteworthy on many levels, including: (1) at 7 years, it ranks among the set of standards that took the longest time to complete as the process required resolving many contentious issues, and (2) the published standard was one of the top money makers for the IEEE Standards Association and IEEE.

802.11 comprised several novel technology developments for wireless communication: (1) distributed medium access control (CSMA), (2) virtual carrier detection for collision avoidance (CA), (3) hidden node protection using RTS/CTS, (4) positive acknowledgement protocol to ensure the integrity of data frame delivery, (5) efficient spectrum usage and sharing using spread spectrum technologies and wireless PHY diversity (different technologies, frequencies and modulation techniques), (6) "local area" coverage providing essential wide area frequency reuse, and (7) power saving modes for use in low power devices.

IEEE Std. 802.11 can, and should, be described completely within the context of IEEE. Broadening the scope to discuss Wi-Fi requires reference to the Wi-Fi Alliance (originally called the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, or WECA). Whereas 802.11 defines and describes the underlying technology, Wi-Fi defines how to configure 802.11 devices in a way that ensures interoperability. The Wi-Fi Alliance tackled the broader product aspects that IEEE could not: (1) an interoperability specification for devices, (2) certification testing for compliance with those specifications, and (3) branding/marketing. The presence of the Wi-Fi logo on a product ensures users that it interoperates with other products. Wi-Fi has succeeded in the global marketplace precisely because both technology and interworking had been attended to by the combination of the 802.11 Working Group and the Wi-Fi Alliance.

As an IEEE activity, IEEE Std. 802.11 together with Wi-Fi represents a great collaborative accomplishment that has changed the world in a way that few other technologies have achieved. The story of its development by the individuals and teams that made it happen is worth telling and remembering.


Above comments by Darwin Engwer, IEEE Member from Portland, OR: I am an electronic engineer specializing in communication systems. I began working on PC networking in 1986 using Novell products and systems, and I subsequently developed PC networking products at Corvus Systems. In 1994 I joined Xircom to work on wireless local area network (WLAN) products and 802.11/Wi-Fi. Through various acquisitions and mergers, my team continued this work at Netwave Technologies, Bay Networks and Nortel Networks. I was active in the IEEE 802.11 Working Group from 1995 through 2009. I contributed to the original 802.11-1997 standard and 13 amendments up to and including 802.11z. During the course of the development of those standards, I held several leadership roles within the Working Group including multiple Task Group vice-chair positions. In 2008, I led the effort to initiate the development of 802.11ac and 802.11ad. I was also active within the Wi-Fi Alliance from 2002 to 2004, and within the IETF in 2004. I hold 12 patents, all in the WLAN field.