Milestone-Proposal talk:The birth of WiFi

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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

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.

There are two basis issues here:

1) What is the starting point of the 25 year period required for a milestone 2) Is the site in the Holland the best site for this recognition

1) Clearly Wi-Fi has been a key major development in the IEEE universe that has literally changed the world. Perhaps more so than any other modern consumer product except possibly the first PCs and first cellphones!

I am not an expert in the precedents for this award so I can not state definitively if the "clock" should start in 1987 with the first internal demonstration or with the commercial marketing of Wi-Fi devices in 1999/2000. The nuance of the creation of the Wi-Fi trademark does not seem important since 802.11b devices and the earlier WaveLAN devices were marked before the trademark was formalized by WECA which then changed its name to "Wi-Fi Alliance"- clearly a better name than "Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance"!

As one who was involved in the very beginning, let me say something about the chronology. (See FCC launched Docket 81-413 for civil use of spread spectrum in 1981 - as the first 2 digits indicate. FCC adopted the rules for unlicensed use of the ISM band for virtually any purpose in May 1985.

The first FCC equipment authorization for a commercial product In that was marketed as an RLAN was to FCCID G4731A440 on 3/17/89. This product was from Telesystems SLW, a Canadian firm. There were a few prior authorizations for spread spectrum devices but there is no evidence they were either RLANs or were ever even marketed. (Most likely they were feasibility demonstrations by chip manufacturers.)

To make an analogy to electric power, it is clear that the first commercial electric power/large scale lighting system was developed by Thomas Edison. But is is also clear that the actual electric grid we use today is AC not Edison's favored DC and owes much to Tesla's genius for its details. Edison's early technology demonstrated feasibility, but the Tesla technology is what we actually use now and is the technology which sparked the massive expansion of electric grids.

So in the the same way, the technology NCR developed in Holland was not the first RLAN technology in the ISM band, but like Tesla's AC technology it has become the key technology that spurs the growth of RLANs and along with its later generations has a major market share today. (Actually for its major use, Internet connection in homes, offices, and distances of a few hundred meters, it is now the dominant technology. For short distance streaming applications and IoT applications, Wi-Fi quietly shares BOTH market and spectrum with Bluetooth and ZigBee. Wi-Fi's early competitors, like Telesystems SLW and HomeRF, have disappeared from the marketplace)

So for this award, do you recognize a pioneering technological deadend like the the 1989 Telesystems SLW device or the technology that started in 1987 in Holland? I would urge the site in Holland.

2) Now the 802.11 standard involved many people from many locations around the world. The first chair of 802.11 and many of the early participants came from NCR Holland. These pioneers have document the early days in their book "The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road to Global Success". The basic 802.11b technology came from this laboratory, but was revised and refined with the help of many people from elsewhere in IEEE's standards development process.

Is there an unambiguous single birthplace for this technology anywhere in the world? No.

The classic Edisonian model of invention in a single lab is rare today in the globalized market with international standards. Others made key contributions to the beginnings of Wi-Fi and the resulting mass marketing of a product that changed the world. But is is fair to say that the Utrecht NCR lab played a key role in the development and in practice is the only physical place that can be identified as such. Any such recognition should note the role of others in the final development of the 802.11 standard.

Author's background: While at FCC I advocated for the Docket 81-413 rulemaking that created the unlicensed ISM band and then directed the policy development that resulted in the May 1985 FCC decision. (See I received the IEEE ComSoc 2013 Award for Public Service in the Field of Telecommunications "For pioneering spectrum policy initiatives that created modern unlicensed spectrum bands for applications that have changed our world".

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.

Re: Re: Current Proposal Only Tells Part of the Story of Wi-Fi -- Wvetten (talk) 16:35, 2 March 2017 (UTC)

Reply at questions raised by M.J. Bastiaans

Question M.J.B.

“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?”

We will address each part separately.

Reply at “demonstration of the feasibility of Wi-Fi”:

• the proposal does not state a “demonstration of Wi-Fi, but rather “demonstratïon of the feasibility of a 100 kbit/s radio link between two PCs to a review team” . Wi-Fi was not existent at that time and this prototype gave the push to the development of the first production model;

• It triggered the team to take the lead in the development of an Industry Standard leading to the IEEE 802.11 standard, which is the basis for Wi-Fi.

Reply at “On which exact date took the demonstration place? Where did it take place?”

• The first demo was an internal NCR demonstrations. It took place at a meeting held 4-6 November 1987 at the premises of the WaveLAN Team, Zadelstede 1-10, Nieuwegein, the Netherlands.

Reply at “Was this a public event and who were in the audience?”

No, this was an internal event between the “client” of the product, the supplier of the funding and the developers. For privacy reasons we have not shown all of the memo showing the date of the demonstration in Figure 3 of the proposal.

Reply at “Has this demonstration got some public attention that can be supported by articles in newspapers or journals?”

• No, the first public demonstration was of Beta versions at Networld 90, Dallas (TX). It stirred the press . This product used the two elements still used in all Wi-Fi devices: Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum using the 11 chip Pseudo random code and the higher layer CSMA/CA protocol.

Reply at “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?”

• No, the building was placed on a demolition plan at some time and is now used by multiple firms, non of which have interest in Wi-Fi. The place is open to the public during office hours, but has a limited number of people visiting the spot. Therefore we thought and found the communications museum in the Hague, the Netherlands, eager to carry the plaque.

Change of proposed plaque site -- Wvetten (talk) 16:28, 4 November 2017 (UTC)

It appeared that the IEEE History Committee had objection to the original proposed site where the milestone plaque would be mounted. Therefore the proposers changed the proposal in this respect. See the latest version of the proposal.

Statement of support for the proposal -- Dstanley 06:30 5 March 2018 (UTC)

Many, many people across the globe have contributed to the development of multiple generations of the technology family now known as Wi-Fi. I support recognizing, as proposed here, the first demonstration of the first Wi-Fi PHY technology which became commercially successful.