The WLAN Project Team (L-R): Mr Graham Daniels, Dr John O'Sullivan, Dr Terry Percival, Mr Diet Ostry, Mr John Deane.

The WLAN Project Team (L-R): Mr Graham Daniels, Dr John O'Sullivan, Dr Terry Percival, Mr Diet Ostry, Mr John Deane.

CSIRO honours wireless team

Reference: 09/182

Australian inventiveness lies at the heart of how millions of people now use wireless networks to access information on a myriad of portable devices.

  • 14 October 2009

In homes, offices and cafés, most of the wireless devices we use every day to access the Internet and other networks rely on CSIRO’s solution to a complex radio problem.

"CSIRO’s solution to the ‘multipath problem’ and its subsequent commercialisation ranks as one of the most significant achievements in CSIRO’s 82 year history," CSIRO chairman Dr John Stocker says.

"The technology is used in over 800 million devices right now and its use is rapidly expanding."

“CSIRO’s solution to the ‘multipath problem’ and its subsequent commercialisation ranks as one of the most significant achievements in CSIRO’s 82 year history,”
CSIRO chairman Dr John Stocker.

Today at a ceremony in Melbourne, the scientific, commercial and legal teams responsible for the achievement will receive CSIRO’s highest honour: the Chairman’s Medal for Research Achievement.

One of the main problems the team managed to solve was ’multipathing’.

"You might imagine that the little box with the flashing lights that powers your home wireless network is simply beaming information straight to your laptop," CSIRO’s Dr John O’Sullivan, leader of the scientific team says.

"In reality the radio waves travel in all directions, bouncing off walls, furniture and people – making it very hard to deliver a clear signal to the receiver."

The team solved this problem by adapting ideas that had their roots in radioastronomy and the search for exploding black holes.

"I was inspired to think about ways of cleaning up smeared radio signals to make searching for short pulses like those from exploding black holes easier," Dr O’Sullivan says.

"We ended up building a ‘fast Fourier transform’ chip to do these sorts of processing tasks efficiently and fast. That proved to be the key to untangling the web of wireless signals so we could build a workable high speed wireless local area network (WLAN)."

A US patent was granted in 1996 and, in 1999, one of the first modern international standards for WLAN (IEEE 802.11a) relied on the technology covered by CSIRO’s patent for its implementation. In 2001 the first products entered the market.

"CSIRO set out to encourage the industry to take licenses for the use of its patented technology," Mr Nigel Poole, CSIRO Executive Director, Commercial says.

"When that did not prove successful, we initiated legal proceedings which then led to proceedings being initiated against CSIRO.

"The result earlier this year was that 14 companies settled with CSIRO under confidential terms. The revenue arising from these settlements to date is approximately $A200 million.

"Soon an announcement will be made about how Australian research will benefit from this success."

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