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Where did Wi-Fi come from?

IMAGE: Courtesy of the Author

Wi-Fi lets us read email in airports, watch video in coffee shops, and listen to music at home. It can convert our airline seats to remote offices. Wi-Fi is everywhere. But where did it come from? The world’s first Wi-Fi network was built by a Palmer guy.

In his new book, Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio, Dr. Alex Hills, who lives in Palmer, Alaska, describes leading a small team of innovators to create that first network and the vision of what we now call Wi-Fi.

The work was done at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, where Dr. Hills is Distinguished Service Professor, but the story he tells begins and ends in Palmer. And one of the book’s chapters is set in bush Alaska, where the author learned about the strange behavior of radio waves, knowledge that he later used to make Wi-Fi work.

The book takes us back to when the Internet was first gaining popularity, email took ten minutes to load up, and cell phones were big and unwieldy. But Alex Hills had a vision: people carrying small handheld devices that were always connected. His unwavering purpose was to change the way we use the Internet.

The first Wi-Fi network was originally a research project intended for use by only a few scientists. Hills had to fend off eager students begging to try it. But soon he found a way to expand the network to cover the entire Carnegie Mellon University campus for use by all students, faculty and staff. His team came up with the design methods that would allow others to build their own Wi-Fi networks.

The book is available online at www.dralexhills.com or through Amazon.com or other booksellers.

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