Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Posted by M.H. Forsyth
What does wi-fi mean?
Come on, you ought to know. You almost certainly have wi-fi (unless you're reading this blog from some paleolithic dial-up system). So? Wi-fi?
Can you guess?
It means nothing at all. Or nearly nothing.
Hi-fi - that means something. It's a shortening of high fidelity, meaning that the sound produced is highly faithful to the original sound recorded. Hi-fi has existed since 1934. The Germans tried to standardise the meaning of the term hi-fi back in the sixties, but it didn't really catch on. It was just a general term of approval that then became interchangeable with cassette player because everybody claimed to be highly faithful.
Then in 1999 the inventors of the new IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence went to a marketing firm called Interbrand to come up with a name that was "a little catchier". Interbrand decided that hi-fi was famous, tried and trusted and that if you changed the hi to wi (for wireless) you would have a tip-top brand name.
But... there's no fidelity involved at all. No sense of this being a more faithful connection to the router. Wireless fidelity would, if it meant anything at all, refer to a spouse who remained faithful even when not attached to electrodes. It's just a leftover term from a previous invention.
The new Wi-fi Alliance were rather awkward about this. They did, for a little while, try to refer to wireless fidelity, but it's such an utterly meaningless idea that the term was dropped and hasn't been seen since 2003. So, wi-fi does not mean wireless fidelity, it means hi-fi with one letter changed.