Most people think they know the can answer correctly if they were asked, ‘What does Wi-Fi stand for?’ But you shouldn’t be so sure.
If you had to guess what the terms Wifi or Wi-Fi stand for, you might confidently suggest “wireless fidelity.” It’s a perfectly reasonable answer.
But it turns out it’s the wrong answer…at least officially.
The first thing to know
What we know today as Wi-Fi actually began in Hawaii, according to Washington Technology Solutions, a government agency in Washington State. Its website states that the service dates back to 1971 with “a wireless UHF packet network called ALOHAnet. ALOHAnet’s purpose was to connect the Hawaiian Islands. Twenty years later, NCR and AT&T developed WaveLAN, updated protocols
WaveLAN became the precursor to the IEEE 802.11 standard. The IEEE stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
How’s that for a fancy name? Yes, Wi-Fi could have been known as IEEE 802.11. Can you imagine visiting your favorite coffee shop and asking for the IEEE 802.11 password?
No, me either.
New Scientist, for what it’s worth, says the full name was “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence.” That’s even worse.
We got to Wi-Fi because IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence seemed far too complicated for most anyone to remember, much less use. Wi-Fi just sounds easier, right?
Around 1999, a group of companies formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, a nonprofit organization that maintains Wi-Fi standards. That eventually became the Wi-Fi Alliance.
For what it’s worth, AP Style dictates that you hyphenate the word and capitalize both the W and the F. Those anti-hyphen folk out there can’t get away with “wifi” where AP Style is concerned.
But what does Wi-Fi stand for?
Now that we know how we came to use the term, where did it actually come from? Reader’s Digest says the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance hired the Interbrand team to come up with an easier moniker. Their solution: Wi-Fi, which is now a trademark owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance.
The alliance felt even its members would demand some type of explanation for this whole “Wi-Fi” thing:
Some members didn’t understand the branding or marketing for Wi-Fi. They felt consumers would want an explanation for the name. So the Alliance agreed to include a tagline: The Standard for Wireless Fidelity. That’s why so many people assume Wi-Fi stands for “wireless fidelity,” but the tagline came after the name.Reader’s Digest
It still seems fishy to me. Sure, the tagline came after the name. But the tagline almost always comes after the name, doesn’t it?
I mean the Fi in Wi-Fi had to mean something. Why Fi and not Gi or Hi? Or any other combination?
We’re supposed to believe that they happened to pick two two-letter syllables that just so happened to conform to turning it into an abbreviation for “wireless fidelity,” which is essentially what Wi-Fi is all about?
Apparently, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to believe.
That’s their story, and yes, they’re sticking to it.