WiFi has become essential to our professional and personal lives. It has changed the way we communicate and altered the way many of our devices work (thanks to the Internet of Things). While it’s now nearly effortless for us to install, connect to and use, how did it come to be?
While WiFi wasn’t accessible to consumers until 1997, it has a long history dating back to the 1940’s. At it’s core, WiFi uses wireless transmitters and radio signals to exchange information and connect to the internet. In the 1940’s, Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed the radio frequency hopping technology that would become the foundation for the wireless communication we all enjoy today.
The History of Radio Frequency Hopping
According to a recent documentary, ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,’ the popular actress Hedy Lamarr often ran experiments in her trailer between takes. Upon meeting Antheil, who famously synchronized pianos to hop from one note to another, the pair came up with a plan that incorporated radio signals. At the time of their work together, World War 2 was in full swing and the U.S. Navy needed a way to protect their underwater missiles form Nazis detection.
Together, Lamarr and Antheil joined the war effort by inventing the concept of radio frequency hopping. Their invention used perforated rolls of paper, much like the ones in pianos, to change frequencies from one point to another via the holes in the roll. This discovery helped guide radio-controlled missiles underwater without risking enemy exposure in that both the radio transmitter and the receiver could simultaneously change from frequency to frequency.
Modern Wireless Communication Methods
Fast forward to 1985, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed several bands of wireless spectrum to be used without a government licence, and communication via radio frequency energy became revolutionized. In order to operate on these bands, devices were required to steer around interference from other equipment. They did so using the frequency hopping technology developed by Lamarr and Antheil.
While the duo were granted US Patent No. 2,292,387 in 1942, they signed it over to the Navy during the war. It wasn’t until 1997 that they were recognized for their frequency hopping technology by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It is no doubt that WiFi’s many applications, including gps and bluetooth wouldn’t be possible without Lamarr’s and Antheil’s invention. As the technological wonder continues to evolve and become faster and more reliable, we can take more than our fair share of inspiration from it’s unlikely source..