Dr. Alex Hills Introduces His New Book on the Roots of Wi-Fi

September 26, 2011

Wireless Internet consumes our world today--making things like connecting to Blackboard in the classroom and downloading books on The Cut possible. But how did it get its start? A little more than a decade and a half ago, the world's first Wi-Fi campus network, Wireless Andrew, was created right here at the INI at Carnegie Mellon University. Today, the INI's founding director and leader of the Wireless Andrew initiative, Dr. Alex Hills tells the story of Wi-Fi through his book Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio.

In 1993, only five years after its creation, the INI had secured a strong educational backbone, but at Carnegie Mellon the desire for research is always present. An idea was originally conceived to cover a small area of campus, a few floors in Wean Hall and Porter Hall, in a wireless test-bed to facilitate research. At the time, it was impossible to foresee that this project would be at the dawn of Wi-Fi networks.

"We were concerned about over-loading the network in the beginning, so only authorized people were given access," Dr. Hills says. "But due to the capabilities of CMU students, they quickly broke that system!"

This was Dr. Hills' first clue. By around 1995-1996, the possibilities for this new wireless network began to surface, as the word spread and interest grew extremely high. By 2000, Dr. Hills and his team had extended Wireless Andrew to cover CMU's entire campus.

Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio tells the story of this technology and how true innovation really works. The book explains the process of inventing this Wi-Fi network while interjecting personal stories and humorous accounts. It was not written for an audience of engineers or techies--anyone with an interest can enjoy this reading just as much.

"The most enjoyable part for me while writing this was reconnecting with colleagues during my fact-checking," Dr. Hills states. "I wanted to tell the story of the people involved as well."

The people who had a hand in Wireless Andrew's beginning were spread out to all corners of Carnegie Mellon, bringing true meaning to the term multidisciplinary. Experts in the fields of electrical and computer engineering, computer science, business, social science and many more contributed to ensure the network's success.

"CMU's environment is one that is very open to innovation," Dr. Hills says. "Which is exactly what was needed for Wireless Andrew."

For more information on Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio, go to

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