May 9, 2010 will be the 25th anniversary of the FCC's adoption of the First Report and Order in Docket 81-413 - the rules that laid our the rules that became Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, many of the cordless phones sold in the US, and a variety of niche products that enhance our lives. In the next few months we will have several posts on how this all came about and its impact on today's world.
A Dutch team based at TU Delft/Delft University of Technology has completed a book on the background of this decision and the early history of Wi-Fi focusing on the factors that stimulated innovation. (NCR's Utrecht Engineering Centre played a key role in early 802.11 standards formulation and its Vic Hayes, a coauthor of the book, was the founding chair of the group.) The book should be published later this year by Cambridge University Press.
The 2008 George Mason University "Unleashing Unlicensed" conference also has a great deal of information on why this decision came about. The paper presented by Vic Hayes and Wolter Lemstra from TU Delft is a good preview of the coming book.
A shorter history, "A brief history of Wi-Fi" was published in The Economist in 2004.
Some people think this decision was the just FCC reacting in a dilatory way to a petition from industry - adding no value and just slowing down progress through mindless regulation of technology. It wasn't. While the then Hewlett-Packard initially supported it, all other significant corporate interests at the time were against it. (The part of H-P that was involved then is now part of Agilent, not the present H-P. It was supportive and then just lost interest in the topic with a corporate refocusing.)
The FCC initiative that resulted in these rules were an internal FCC initiative that came out of Carter Administration and then Reagan Administration belief that deregulation would stimulate economic growth.
In occasional posts over the next few months we will review where this decision came from and lessons it offers for the present day.
"Looking back, it is clear that adoption of these rules was one
of the significant achievements of the Reagan FCC
- though I doubt if anyone thought so at the time."