The History of WiFi is Long and Interesting

By Vicki Sloan, Nomad’s Global Marketing and Event Manager

WiFi has very quickly become an integral part of people’s daily lives. We’ve come to expect it at home, work and in public areas. We are used to being and staying connected and will rely on WiFi to do everyday tasks such as, checking emails, finding directions and posting on Social Media.

WiFi on Trains
WiFi on Trains

The history of WiFi is long and interesting. In 1971, ALOHA net connected the Hawaiian Islands with a UHF wireless packet network. Then, we jump to 1991 when, NCR Corporation with AT&T Corporation are credited for inventing the first wireless products, under the name WaveLAN.

In 1997 we see the first release of WiFi for consumers when a committee called 802.11 was created. This sparked a development in prototype equipment (routers) and in 1999, WiFi was introduced for home use. (reference: CableFree: Wireless Excellence)

WiFi technology has advanced massively in the last 20 years – how far has it actually come?

WiFi performance continues to improve and it’s one of the most important technologies today. It’s smart, simple and economical too. To think we can now get on a train and stay connected while travelling at up to 150 mph is quite frankly amazing. The idea of onboard connectivity was talked about for a long time, train operators and builders knew it would be the next big thing to increase passenger travel and satisfaction by providing a service that enables working and socialising.

But, WiFi is more than going online to check emails or browse the internet. It has become a driving force when it comes to connecting devices, sharing data and exchanging information. Which can now be referred to or is known as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), which at a base level means, a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items that are embedded with electronics, software, and connectivity enabling then to connect and share. said, “IoT is one of the most exciting waves of innovation the world has witnessed, and its potential has only just begun to emerge.” 

WiFi and connectivity on trains

Reliable connectivity has become an ‘expected norm’. When people are away from their home or office, being constantly connected is simply expected. Digital technology is ubiquitous covering all aspects of our everyday lives and the perception is: ‘why should it stop when we step on to a train? Nomad Digital uses cutting-edge technology and equipment to achieve this ‘expected norm’.

Nomad is the pioneer of the Intelligent Train – a shared and secure network infrastructure to which all on-board systems and passenger devices may connect and interact. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the driving force behind the Nomad Digital platform, allowing on-board devices to communicate with each other, and with the outside world, while maintaining a full separation between passenger-facing applications and those systems responsible for the safe operation of the train. Through the adoption of industry standards, customers can be assured of a functionally-rich, future-proof platform that allows applications and services to collect and exchange data, meaning everyone is more connected than ever before.

Understanding WiFi on trains

As a new member of the Nomad team I decided to dig a little deeper into why WiFi on trains is different to the WiFi we have at home. I asked Paul Vaclik, Nomad’s Technical Director EMEA and Software Architecture a couple of questions.

Q. Hi Paul, I’m trying to understand why WiFi on trains is different to WiFi at home. I think most people, myself included (when I first started at Nomad) think it’s easy to implement. Can you tell me what makes it so specialised and the types challenges we might come across?

A. Your home WiFi needs to support your family’s phones, tablets and laptops and perhaps a few smart TVs and other devices. A train is a metal box with several hundred people in a small space so WiFi solutions need to deal with a far greater density of connections. However, just getting everyone connected is not the biggest challenge! Passengers want to access the public internet, so we need to provide a very high capacity connection from the train, which is travelling very quickly through many environments – cities, remote rural areas, tunnels, cuttings etc. Nomad’s solutions use multiple connections and adapt very quickly to changing environments so that passengers on the train experience a continuous connection to the internet.

If you want to do some maths – imagine a train travelling at 300km/h passing mobile phone base stations that are 1km apart. That means our connections could be swapping between base stations every 12 seconds… with connection quality that is changing all the time. Providing several hundred passengers with a stable internet connection in those conditions requires some really clever solutions – that’s where we are experts.

Q. Could you also tell me what you think makes Nomad stand out and why our vision ‘connecting everything’ is still as relevant today as it was in 2007?

A. The technologies behind mobile connectivity are evolving very rapidly, as are people’s expectations. It is not that long ago that a home internet connection would struggle to deliver a website with a video. Now we all expect HD video and streaming services on our phones! Nomad’s connectivity solutions continuously evolve to take advantages of advances in technology including 3G, 4G, dedicated trackside networks and will soon include satellite, 5G and beyond. Passengers expect to be able to work, to have up to date information and to be entertained while they travel so the need for Nomad’s products will only continue to grow. And our solutions do far more than connect passengers. A train can contain hundreds of networked devices – sensors, cameras, displays etc and run many software applications so is rapidly evolving into a fast-moving datacentre attached to a complex network. We provide solutions to manage all of those devices, software and data effectively and securely. We are “connecting everything” to provide products and services which make journeys more efficient and enjoyable for passengers and more efficient for operators.

So, what’s next?

With IoT is constantly reminding the rail technology industry to push the boundaries of what’s possible. The capabilities of on-train connectivity are endless, and with the way things are going, it is incredibly exciting to see what the future holds.

Top 10 WiFi facts (just for fun)

  1. It may seem like only yesterday we were all dialling in for our connection, but wireless internet is only a few years away from its 30th birthday.
  2. 71% of mobile communications flow over wireless internet.
  3. WiFi is the biggest communications tool in the world.
  4. “WiFi” was a play on the term “Hi-Fi” or “High Fidelity”. However, WiFi doesn’t actually stand for anything.
  5. The term Internet of Things (IoT) has actually been around for almost 20 years!
  6. Some of the strangest WiFi connected devices are, walking sticks, umbrellas, shirts, water bottles, and cutlery.
  7. In 2016 there was approximately 7 billion people living on the planet, and over 23 billion devices connected to the Internet – an average of 3 devices per person.
  8. By 2020 it is estimated there will be over 50 billion WiFi connected devices worldwide being used by 7.8 billion people – more than doubling the number of devices per person!
  9. There are currently around 150 million smart homes worldwide –WiFi connected homes are becoming the norm.
  10. Right now, 3.7 billion people are using the Internet – that’s over half the world.

If you have an idea for a future topic, or would like to comment on this blog contact [email protected]

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