The History of Wireless Internet
The History of Wireless Internet
By Marvin Garellek, Contributing Editor to Main Street
Wireless communications has a unique and fascinating history. Imagine conversations being transmitted wirelessly in 1900. The following paragraph provides a brief overview of how wireless communications has evolved.
In 1901 Marconi had already posted radio waves across the Atlantic, from Cornwall in England to Newfoundland. In 1940 Taxi firms started utilizing two-way radios to communicate with their dispatchers. In 1970 analog cell phones were introduced and developed by Illinois Bell and AT&T. GSM or Global System for Mobile communications digital cell phones started in 1980 in Europe and was then imported to North America. In 1994 Nokia was one of the first cell phone manufacturers, sent data over a cell phone network. In 1997 the Wi-Fi standard of IEEE 802.11 was agreed upon as an international standard and finally in 1999 i-mode was developed by the Japanese telecommunications company NTT DoCoMo. In early 2007 Rogers implemented a 3G cellular network that carried voice and fast data connectivity over handheld devices.
The first Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) in the world was LARIAT , a non-profit rural telecommunications cooperative founded in 1992 by Brett Glass in Laramie, Wyoming. LARIAT originally used equipment, manufactured by the NCR Corporation. It was initially intended for cashier systems; the first wireless products were brought on the market under the name WaveLan with speeds of 1 Mbit/s to 2 Mbit/s.
In the mid 1990’s there were many neighbourhood computer gurus that were living in small towns with no Internet access and thought they could cobble together a small wireless network to serve their needs.
At the time, 56k modems were just being released and people were looking for something better than 33.6k dial up access. DSL was on its way from the telephone companies, but only in large cities. Even in 2010, many rural areas still do not have high speed coverage from any service provider.
Since necessity is the mother of invention, many of these rural techies looked into finding a solution to give customers what they wanted most—fast, reliable service. It was discovered that they could build a wireless system capable of serving T1-like speeds and offer the service to subscribers.
Of course some of the hurdles these pioneers had were the wireless language barrier. Wireless was an entirely new language and they needed to understand what AP, SU, WB, -D, Ad-Hoc, dB, and 802.11 meant. AP is Access Point, SU is Subscriber Unit, dB is deci-Bells, Ad-Hoc mode is a method for wireless devices to directly communicate with each other and 802.11 is a set of standards carrying out wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication in the 2.4, 3.6 and 5 GHz frequency bands.
Another hurdle is radio frequency interference. Since most of these operators use the unlicensed band and equipment, they had to plan the network around local radio frequency interference. Even microwave ovens and cordless phones in a home can contribute to network interference.
They also had to learn about line-of-sight issues that impact any ISPs wireless footprint. These could include trees, houses, barns etc and testing is required to see if the signal can get through.
Once they were able to figure out the technical side of the equation, they had to ask a couple of fundamental business questions:
How many customers could they serve?
How much should they charge for service?
What would it cost to install and SU?
How much would customers be willing to pay for the SU?
Then there is an ongoing debate about which spectrum to use; unlicensed, licensed, 2.4 GHz, 3.5 GHz, 5 GHz or 900Mhz. Each has its positives and negatives, with none being ideal. There is no one technology, brand, vendor, or antenna that suits every possible situation.
Once these techies started to deploy their wireless ISP systems they had no problem selling wire-free connectivity, especially in rural areas. 100% wireless coverage is still a long way away, however is it becoming more ubiquitous.