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Chapter 1. Why Wireless? > Wireless Networking Roots

Wireless Networking Roots

So what exactly do we mean when we talk about wireless networking? For the purposes of this book, we're almost always talking about a short-range, unlicensed radio technology called IEEE 802.11b, also known by the more mellifluous moniker Wi-Fi (it's an odd shortening of “wireless fidelity” by a trade association). Although we may occasionally switch back and forth for accuracy, we mostly use Wi-Fi throughout the book to avoid confusion. Wi-Fi is by no means the only wireless networking technology, but it's by far the most common (we look at the other major technologies in the next chapter). Let's take a quick spin through the development of wireless networking.

The first wireless network was developed at the University of Hawaii in 1971 to link computers on four islands without using telephone wires. Wireless networking entered the realm of personal computing in the 1980s, when the idea of sharing data between computers was becoming popular. Some of the first wireless networks didn't use radio at all, though, instead relying on infrared transceivers. Unfortunately, infrared never took off because infrared radiation can't penetrate most physical objects. Thus, it required a clear line of sight at all times, a tricky thing to accomplish in most offices. (Even modern infrared is still quite low bandwidth, when it works.)


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