Who invented the first router

25 years of WiFi

In 2008 we found a few Ethernet sockets with the label "WLAN" in a Düsseldorf hotel - an indication that WLAN and Internet are synonyms for many people. The Americans know WLAN as Wi-Fi, a marketing success of the Wi-Fi Alliance, which established a catchy word for the jumble of numbers and letters.


When it comes to WLAN, technicians tend to think of the IEEE specifications of the 802.11 family, the IEEE Working Group, which has standardized increasingly powerful wireless networks for over 25 years. Work on the first standard began in September 1990, but it was not published until 1997: 2 Mbit / s raw data rate in the 2.4 GHz band. The breakthrough of the Internet via the World Wide Web also took place during this period. Most participants had access to this network via dial-up connections with modems, which were increasingly being built into laptops. In 1997, WLAN was a niche technology for networkers.

The first early adopters found the 802.11b standard with 11 Mbit / s in the 2.4 GHz band two years later. 802.11a with 54 Mbit / s in the 5 GHz band, also passed in 1999, was, however, a niche market. Anyone who experimented with WLAN at the turn of the millennium had the holy trinity of modem, router and WLAN access point at home. Laptops were upgraded for WLAN with the help of a PCMCIA card. The antenna protruded two fingers wide from the device and always threatened to break off.


In 1999 the WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance) was formed. These included 3Com, Aironet (Cisco), Harris Semiconductor (Intersil), Lucent, Nokia and Symbol Technologies (Motorola). WECA tested and certified the WLAN components from different manufacturers for interoperability. Based on Hi-Fi (High Fidelity) from the entertainment industry, the WECA created the brand Wi-Fi: Wireless Fidelity in order to introduce the new network technology. Three years later, the WECA already had 500 members and was renamed the Wi-Fi Alliance.

At the beginning of the millennium, WLAN access points were still delivered unsecured. The devices sent out a uniform SSID, such as "NETGEAR". The main concern of the manufacturers was that customers would have no difficulty connecting their end devices. You could optionally protect the access points from unwanted access via WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), but that was an additional step in the setup that only a few took care of. With their laptops open, the war drivers drove through the cities to create maps with free Internet access.

Busy blinking

WLAN is still in the flashing age in these years. Just as Bluetooth devices flash happily blue to indicate their function, access points from 3Com or Aironet cards from Cisco also use their LEDs to indicate that radio waves are at work here.

The technology experienced its breakthrough in 2002, then with the 802.11g specification, which achieved a gross 54 Mbit / s in the 2.4 GHz band; About half of this remained net. Routers received a 4-port switch and antennas. The legendary Linksys WRT-54G hit the market. Laptops were given a WLAN option. The first white iBook did have 100Mbps Ethernet and a 56k modem, but both Bluetooth and WiFi were paid options. Apple calls its internally installed WLAN card with 802.11b / g technology "AirPort Extreme". The laptop has the antennas already built in. In 2003, IBM advertised on its ThinkParade roadshow with WLAN antennas in the housing cover, which enable a greater range than those previously often installed under the palm rest.


With the further spread of WLAN, the demands on security also grow. In 2003, WEP was drilled out to become WPA. This is still based on the RC4 stream cipher, but contains dynamic keys and, for corporate use, the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), with which participants can identify themselves to a server. In the home, WPA works with a pre-determined key (PSK). Manufacturers of access points and wireless routers start by assigning each device a unique SSID and securing access ex works. One year later, WPA2 follows, which not only implements the full IEEE 802.11i specification, but also uses AES256 for encryption.