The Creation of Wi-Fi

WiFiDr. Alex Hills, and fellow Information Networking Institute (INI) researchers, did not set out to turn Carnegie Mellon into the world’s first wireless campus, however, that is precisely what happened. In 1994, partnering with AT&T, the INI began its Wireless Research Initiative to develop a wireless local-area network system. The initial concept was to cover sections of select Carnegie Mellon buildings with radio-frequency transmissions, creating a wireless mobile computing-laboratory. Soon the southwestern corner of campus was fully connected, and Dr. Hills began to rethink the scope of the project. If the methodology they used could cover a section of campus, then surely it could cover the whole of Carnegie Mellon.

This is how Wireless Andrew was born, and soon a team began to develop the project in two phases. In 1997, the first phase expanded the existing network. 73 access points allowed coverage to reach over nearly half of the campus, including classrooms, research laboratories, and office space. The following year, Carnegie Mellon partnered with Lucent Technologies to begin the second phase. The team increased the number of access points to 351, which ensured that the academic campus was entirely wireless. Then, in 2001, 275 access points were added to include coverage in residence halls, making Carnegie Mellon entirely wireless.

Of course, developing Wireless Andrew was not without its obstacles. Researchers faced challenges with coverage range, connection speed, cost, and security. However, during its development, and ever since, Carnegie Mellon has continuously improved Wireless Andrew. The university has stayed on the cutting-edge of wireless technology by continually upgrading the system and improving the speed and reliability of connections.

The Wi-Fi networks that allow us to read the news on our laptops at a café or check our email on our cellphones are all modeled on Wireless Andrew. As with the Wireless Research Initiative that covered a small section of campus, these networks rely on radio waves that are sent by network cards to access point. What began at the INI, almost fifteen years ago, as an aspiration to connect Carnegie Mellon, has gone on to become an innovation that is connecting the world.