Milestone-Proposal talk:The birth of WiFi

Revision as of 11:00, 23 January 2017 by M.j.bastiaans (talk | contribs) (Current Proposal Only Tells Part of the Story of Wi-Fi -- Bberg (talk) 19:29, 2 March 2016 (CST))

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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

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.

The following is a timeline of important events leading up to Wi-Fi:

1985: FCC adopts spread spectrum rules for the ISM bands (credit to Dr. Michael Marcus Sc.D.)

1990: IEEE 802 forms the 802.11 Working Group

1997: IEEE 802.11 Working Group approves IEEE Std. 802.11

1999: IEEE 802.11 Working Group approves IEEE Std. 802.11b

1999: Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) is formed

2000: WECA establishes Wi-Fi testing, certification and branding based on 802.11b technology

"The birth of WiFi (sic), 1988" proposal cites a group of Dutch engineers who began working with spread spectrum technology in November 1987, and its extensive documentation attempts to justify spread spectrum as the basis for the 1988 date. However, spread spectrum was not Wi-Fi. Neither really were the IEEE 802.11 efforts from 1990-1998. These efforts were all groundwork for the arrival of Wi-Fi in 1999/2000. The 1999 era date is supported by the Wi-Fi Alliance as shown at Hence, the 25-year minimum for an IEEE Milestone dictates that Wi-Fi will need to wait until at least 2024 since the "Birth of Wi-Fi" is different from the "Incubation of Wi-Fi."

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.

Re: Current Proposal Only Tells Part of the Story of Wi-Fi -- Wvetten (talk) 15:54, 2 December 2016 (UTC)

Response to the first reaction on the proposed Milestone Award, by Vic Hayes, Cees Links and Wim van Etten

Thanks to Darwin Engwer and Brian Berg for their comments to the original proposal. The following are our responses.

Regarding the name Wi-Fi

The first comment is the name in the title and in the citation that should be Wi-Fi instead of WiFi.

The writers of the proposal have changed the term WiFi into Wi-Fi in the title as well as in the citation. All other references to Wi-Fi were correct.

Regarding the contributions by other people

The second comment is that the proposal does not recognise the efforts and contributions of other people.

The writers of the proposal agree that many people have contributed to the standard in filing submissions, voting responses with comments and in their efforts both during the sessions and in between sessions. They found it difficult to digress about the topic, because the proposal had to be submitted as responses to specific questions. Nevertheless, they already mentioned that in a few lines above the title of chapter “Higher layer networking provisions” in the following way: “Recognising that the resulting standards are made as result of group decisions, the WaveLAN-team provided the leadership.” However, the development of standards seems not to be eligible for a milestone award. Nor is the establishment of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

In the proposal in the section “Interoperability across products” we replaced the text “With the IEEE standard in place and a certification activity by the Wi-Fi Allianceix, the certification mark of the Wi-Fi Alliance on the products brought clarity on the market.” by the text:

“Key to the success of Wi-Fi are the efforts by many individuals in the IEEE 802.11 working group and the Wi-Fi Alliance. IEEE 802.11 produced the interoperability standard that was set by many individuals in a process of reaching consensus by group decisions on their submissions in long debates, through tedious resolving comments supplied in ballots as well as the efforts of officers leading the various groups and the editors of draft standards. In addition to the interoperability specification of IEEE 802.11, buyers needed to know which product would interoperate with other products. The solution was reached by the industry alliance WECA, later renamed into Wi-Fi Alliance. They selected key elements which products needed to have minimally and performed a certification test on new products. Products that passed the test were allowed to carry the certification logo showing the letters Wi and Fi on each product.”

Regarding the choice of the starting point

Commenter proposes an unspecified event in the 1999-2000 timeframe as the birth of Wi-Fi.

However, in the past, several milestones were awarded for first working models that were demonstrated. The working model demonstrated in 1987 seems to be the best as it was the basis for further development resulting into the first production model with the 11 chip pseudorandom spreading code and the higher layer access method CSMA/CA; see further below under “Regarding the choice of prototype” and “Regarding the novel technologies in IEEE 802.11”.

As in the milestone for the CD player, the award was assigned to Philips, even though Sony did contribute and the eventual CD-player largely changed over time. In that situation the first demonstration was the decisive factor.

Regarding the choice of prototype

Looking at figure 1 of the proposal there is evidence that more companies had been working on the topic. Details of their first demonstration is not available to the writers, but writers contend that their demonstration in November 1987 is certainly eligible for the milestone as further developments reached the threshold of 1 Mbit/s set by the rules of the IEEE 802 committee. The breakthrough was reached by the find of the 11 chip code and its approval by FCC staffers. The code was published in reference [5], B. T. Tuch, "DQPSK Spread-Spectrum Modulation/Demodulation," Doc: IEEE 802.4l/89-0016, 1989.

Regarding the novel technologies in IEEE 802.11

Commenter mentions various novel technologies in the IEEE 802.11 standard as follows:

“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. “

As documented in chapter “Higher layer networking provisions” in the proposal, many of those technologies have been proposed and defended by the WaveLAN team in the following way:

  1. Has been proposed in referenced document [7] and [8],
  2. Has also been proposed in referenced document [7] and [8],
  3. Proposed by an other person (Ken Biba in doc.: 91/92,
  4. Has also been proposed in referenced document [7] and [8],
  5. Has been proposed in referenced document [5] and [12],
  6. The scope of the working group was to work in the local area.
  7. Has been proposed in document ],

Regarding the denial of spread spectrum and the efforts of the IEEE 802.11 as relevant

Commenter concludes his comments with: “However, spread spectrum was not Wi-Fi. Neither really were the IEEE 802.11 efforts from 1990-1998”.

Writers of the proposal disagree with his position that spread spectrum was not Wi-Fi, because the first Wi-Fi certificates were based on the Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum PHY together with the “High rate, direct sequence spread spectrum PHY”; both dubbed spread spectrum.

Moving to the 2012 version of the IEEE 802.11 standard, those PHY specifications still have the names, respectively “DSSS PHY specification for the 2.4 GHz band designated for ISM applications” and “High Rate direct sequence spread spectrum (HR/DSSS) PHY specification”. And both are still required in the certification requirement of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

For the two reasons just mentioned the writers of the proposal disagree that the IEEE 802.11 efforts from 1990-1998 were not part of Wi-Fi.

Commenter further continues that “These efforts were all groundwork for the arrival of Wi-Fi in 1999/2000.”

Writers of the proposal observe that commenter ignore the importance of the market breakthrough caused by the WaveLAN-Apple release of a $ 100.00 card (retail price). Competitors of the WaveLAN team were interested to deliver their product to Apple Computer. However, they backed off when they learned they had to deliver the card at a target around $ 50.00 to Apple. The WaveLAN team management accepted the challenge on the basis of forward pricing. By changing the manufacturing to a mass production operation and the benefit of better deals with parts suppliers, the price goal was reached. The entrepreneurs took the commitment when the price point of cards was around $ 500.00. By the time of the announcement was made the price point was still $ 300.00. Without this aggressive joint marketing, the market could have been lost due to missing the market window or gone to HomeRF, a low cost proprietary technology those days.

The text of the proposal and the above reply are written by Vic Hayes, Cees Links and Wim van Etten

In 1988 Vic Hayes (IEEE Senior Member) revived a task group chartered with the development of a wireless extension to the Token Bus MAC by taking the chair of the group that had given-up. In 1990 the group decided that the Token Bus protocol was not well suited to make use of a medium like radio. Hence he co-founded the IEEE 802.11 Workgroup for Wireless Local Area Networks and led the group until the end of his term and the breakthrough of Wireless LAN devices conforming to the IEEE 802.11 standard in 2000. After his term he was elected to perform the new function of Radio Regulatory Ombudsman in the IEEE 802 Executive Committee and founded and chaired the Regulatory Group at the Wi-Fi Alliance. He led the group until the adoption of the resolution at the World Radio Conference 2003 making 455 MHz of spectrum globally available for Wireless Access Systems including RLANs.

In 1988 as Product Manager in NCR Cees Links probably gave the first, what is now known as Wi-Fi presentation. Under his responsibility the first wireless networking card, WaveLAN, was launched in 1991 at Comdex in Dallas, Texas. During the 90-ties, Cees ran the wireless LAN business as Product Line Director for then AT&T, and later as General Manager for Wireless LAN’s in Lucent Technologies. He was responsible for the big breakthrough with Apple Computers making IEEE 802.11 the standard wireless technology for the Apple iBook and the Apple Airport, establishing Wi-Fi as the standard networking technology of choice for initially the consumer at home, and later for enterprises in offices, industrial applications, automotive, etc. Cees is founder & CEO at GreenPeak Technologies B.V., since recently part of Qorvo.

Wim van Etten (IEEE Life Senior Member) is professor emeritus in Telecommunication Engineering from the University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands. Wim did groundbreaking work on MIMO. He wrote several papers on that subject and besides he did experiments showing the feasibiliy of it. Two of those papers were selected in "The Best of the Best" (Wiley/IEEE Press, 2007), a reprint collection of 50 key papers that was published at the occasion of the 50-th anniversary of the IEEE Communications Society. He was IEEE Benelux Section Vice-Chair 2009-2010 and Chair 2011-2012. At the moment he is still a member of the IEEE Benelux Section Executive Committee. Moreover, he is chairman of the IEEE Benelux Section Life Member Affinity Group.

Re: Current Proposal Only Tells Part of the Story of Wi-Fi -- M.j.bastiaans (talk) 11:00, 23 January 2017 (UTC)

I am not an expert on Wi-Fi, but I do have some remarks about the first sentence in the proposed citation: "In November 1987, a group of Dutch engineers demonstrated the feasibility of wireless computer networking." Since the proposers focus on the first (?) demonstration of the feasibility of Wi-Fi, I would like to see some more details and evidence. For instance: On which exact date took the demonstration place? Where did it take place? Was this a public event and who were in the audience? Has this demonstration got some public attention that can be supported by articles in newspapers or journals? Did the demonstration take place at the spot where the plaque will be mounted, and if not what is the reason to mount the plaque at the proposed spot?

As to the technical content of the Milestone, I welcome any additional reaction from the experts in the field of Wi-Fi. In particular it will be good to hear their views on the proposers' rebuttal to earlier comments.