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The challenge

A world weighed down by wires

Back in the 1990s, there were no smartphones, tablets or other wireless devices. If you were browsing online you had to rely on fixed wires.

Major communications companies around the world were trying to introduce wireless networking technology, however they were struggling with a problem called reverberation.

Reverberation occurs where radio waves bounce around the surrounding environment causing an echo that distorts the signal.

Wifi 101 tells the story behind the creation of wifi technology in a radio-physics lab at CSIRO in the 1990s.

The team recognised the problem of reverberation, where in confined spaces radio waves bounce off surfaces such as furniture and walls, causing the signal to be scrambled, and they set out to solve the problem.

Their solution involved replacing a large single wave with lots of smaller waves sent in parallel. These smaller waves were less prone to interference, and because the signal was duplicated many times, there was a much greater chance that the waves made it to their intended destination. The change was similar to replacing a wide single lane road with a multi-lane highway.

The team then used a range of techniques to piece the signals back together at their destination, including error correction coding and interleaving for piecing together missing signals, and for piecing together signals that arrived out of sync they used Fourier algorithms, the same mathematics used by astronomers to piece together the waves from black holes when they arrive back on earth out of sync.

This infographic explains how WiFi technology was created and how it actually works (expand for full screen).

Our response

We invented wireless LAN

We invented and patented wireless LAN (WLAN) – a technology that has given us the freedom to work wirelessly in our homes and offices.

The invention came out of our pioneering research in radioastronomy. That work involved complex mathematics known as 'fast fourier transforms' as well as detailed knowledge about radio waves and their behaviour in different environments.

Our team solved the issue of reverberation in a unique way at a time when many companies around the world were trying, but with less success, to solve the same problem.

The results

A top Australian invention

Today, this wireless network connectivity is in products such as phones, televisions, cameras, laptops, printers, routers and games consoles. In fact, our WLAN technology is estimated to be in more than five billion devices worldwide. It is used in WiFi hotspots in offices, public buildings, homes and even coffee shops.

Today, its myriad applications have fundamentally changed how we think of and use technology in our daily lives. The discovery is one of our most successful inventions to date and is internationally recognised as a great Australian science success story.

We can be proud that our invention lies at the heart of what is now the most popular way to connect to the internet without wires. This is all possible thanks to inventors Dr John O'Sullivan, Dr Terry Percival, Mr Diet Ostry, Mr Graham Daniels and Mr John Deane.

We are now building on our legacy in wireless research, developing innovative solutions for the next generation of wireless technologies.

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