At the heart of the most popular way to connect computers without wires is a CSIRO success story.
Slow wireless networking
Prior to the 1990s a major challenge facing communications companies around the world was to work out how to reliably communicate large amounts of data without wires in indoor environments.
Achieving this would give users the freedom to move around and stay connected to a high speed computer network, and be able to send and receive information.
When CSIRO began research in this area, indoor wireless network systems ran very slowly and performance was extremely limited. A significant challenge was overcoming obstacles of the indoor environment.
An answer from a different sector
CSIRO's team solved the main problem of wireless networking indoors – combating reverberation – where radio waves bounce around in the surrounding environment causing echoes and fades that impede clear reception. This breakthrough came from pioneering work in radio astronomy involving complex mathematics and detailed knowledge about the behaviour of radio waves in different environments.
The research culminated in an invention that allowed indoor wireless communication between electronic devices at high data rates.
A revolution in mobile computing
It is hard to imagine an Australian-invented technology with greater global impact. WLAN technology has revolutionised communication and is used in an estimated five billion devices worldwide including phones, televisions, cameras, laptops, printers, routers and games consoles. It is used in WiFi hotspots in offices, public buildings, homes and even coffee shops.
Widespread adoption of this technology has enabled a global revolution in mobile computing and communication. CSIRO has licence agreements with more than 20 international companies and has received around A$430 million in licensing revenue.
CSIRO inventors Dr John O'Sullivan, Dr Terry Percival, Mr Diet Ostry, Mr Graham Daniels and Mr John Deane created this technology in the 1990s while working in CSIRO's radiophysics division. As a result of this work, in 2009 Dr John O'Sullivan was awarded the Australian Prime Minister's Prize for Science. The CSIRO WLAN team has also received worldwide recognition including the European Patent Office Non-European Inventor Award for 2012.
CSIRO is now working to develop further generations of wireless technology called Ngara that can be used outdoors over larger distances, and can complement current fibre optic and cellular phone networks.