What does the name “Wi-Fi “even stand for? It’s a question which those of us in the industry have heard more times than we can count. If you thought it was short for Wireless Fidelity, you’re not alone. But in fact, this ubiquitous phrase isn’t short for anything at all. No acronym, no abbreviation…nothing.

Kind of like Häagen-Dazs or Sony, the term “Wi-Fi” came about mainly because of the way it rolls off the tongue, as opposed to conveying some literal meaning. Sometimes a name becomes a name simply for the way it looks and sounds. At least, that was the logic behind the Wi-Fi Alliance’s decision back in 1999, when they chose this catchy phrase to brand their new technology after it was suggested by a top marketing firm.

The branding effort paid off. Today, over 15 years later, Wi-Fi has become one of the world’s most popular and widely used technologies. Yet many of us know surprisingly little about its origins and inner workings, especially compared to other big innovations which we tend to quickly associate with iconic inventors and companies.

It’s all the more reason to brush up on your Wi-Fi knowledge and learn more about what makes this vital technology tick. This blog will enlighten you with some essential Wi-Fi trivia, delving into Wi-Fi’s beginnings before looking ahead to its promising future.

What exactly is Wi-Fi, anyway?

A Wi-Fi connection consists of high-frequency radio signals. And just in the same way that certain agencies regulate the frequency of a radio station, there’s a group of organizations that regulate wireless standards for Wi-Fi.

All the electronic components that make up a wireless network (the wireless device, router, and so on) are based upon one of the 802.11 series of standards established by the Wi-Fi Alliance and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). More specifically, the Wi-Fi Alliance defines Wi-Fi as any “wireless local area network” (WLAN) product that was developed according to the IEEE’s 802.11 standards, the latest of which is 802.11ac. In practice, however, the term often gets used as a synonym for any WLAN system.

Wi-Fi works through an exchange of radio signals between wired routers (which stay physically connected to the Internet via Ethernet cable) and wireless adapters built into mobile devices. A router transmits Internet data to mobile gadgets in the form of high-frequency radio waves. Adapters then capture and read these signals. Device adapters can relay data back to the router as well, creating a two-way flow of information.

Who invented Wi-Fi?

A number of individuals and organizations made key contributions to the birth of Wi-Fi. However, two names deserve special credit.

Popularly known as the “Father of Wi-Fi,” Vic Hayes is a former senior research fellow at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Before the public had ever even heard the phrase “Wi-Fi,” Hayes was establishing the standards that would make the technology feasible, bringing together a working group of researchers who advanced major breakthroughs in wireless communications standards.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia was another influential player which helped bring Wi-Fi to the world. This Australian government science body invented a chip which greatly improved the signal quality of Wi-Fi radio waves, cracking a challenge which a host of top communications companies had struggled to solve.

Radio waves bounce off indoor surfaces whenever they travel through buildings, producing an echo that distorts their signal. CSIRO resolved this dilemma with a new chip that could minimize the echo and still transmit a strong signal. This innovation paved the way for the wireless local area network (WLAN) technology that underpins all Wi-Fi communication.

How fast will Wi-Fi get?

In early 2016, a team of Japanese researchers announced they had developed a Wi-Fi transmitter capable of sustaining a 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) connection speed. For comparison, the fastest home Wi-Fi connections in use today rarely hit over 1 Gbps. This powerhouse router reportedly lets devices download a full HD film in under a second – just one indication of the technology’s remarkable potential. Yet because it uses the unfamiliar Terahertz (THz) band – a frequency whose spectrum hasn’t yet been officially allocated – the design remains highly experimental, and we won’t see it in consumer products for a number of years.

How many Wi-Fi devices exist in the world?

The Wi-Fi Alliance estimates that by the end of 2016, Wi-Fi device shipments will surpass 15 billion units. With an installed base of more than 6.8 billion devices, Wi-Fi has become one of the most prolific technologies on Earth.

How many Wi-Fi devices are there per person?

Since 2015, the general rule of thumb for determining the total number of Internet-connected devices has been to assume an average of three devices per user. Yet this appears to have shifted thanks to the growth of the Internet of Things.

Our need for “always-on” connectivity and accessibility has sparked the emergence of wearable tech such as smartwatches and voice badges, as well as “Smart Home” devices like smart TVs and home automation products. Somewhere between 7 and 12 billion Internet-connected devices are in use today, and that figure looks poised to reach over 22 billion by 2020. Between these devices, Internet-connected cars, and other Internet-reliant gadgets, the average number of devices per user has now edged closer to five, a substantial portion of which depend on Wi-Fi. Multiply those figures by a global population of over 7 billion and you’ve got a massive new wave of Wi-Fi devices looming on the horizon, a trend that promises to place existing networks under serious strain.

It always pays to stay informed about the technologies you depend on. And now that you know more about the major advances expected for Wi-Fi’s future, it’s time to start some planning.  Xirrus builds adaptive Wi-Fi solutions that let you constantly evolve your network and keep up with changing wireless trends. Our future-proof Wi-Fi architecture easily scales to meet growing user demand without requiring new hardware, ensuring your initial investment stays protected for years to come. Learn more by exploring Xirrus solutions today.