People Are Just Learning The True Meaning Of The Word Wi-Fi

People Are Just Learning The True Meaning Of The Word Wi-Fi

A lot of people (IFLScience included) rely on Wi-Fi every single day, for our jobs, accessing the news, accidentally spending three hours on TikTok – and we can now do so in more places than ever before. But while it might be heading towards ubiquity, how many of us actually know what the term stands for?

There are definitely a few good guesses floating around. The way it’s written would indicate that it’s short for something and the most similar term to be found with that in mind is “hi-fi”, which stands for “high fidelity”. Wi-Fi must stand for “wireless fidelity” then, right?

Wrong (although it’s very reasonable logic). In fact, Wi-Fi actually doesn’t mean anything at all, according to Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

“Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for anything. It is not an acronym. There is no meaning,” said Belanger.

So what does it mean?

It turns out that the term Wi-Fi was magicked up by marketing firm Interbrand, who were tasked with coming up with a name that would be memorable to everyone. After all, the technical term for it was IEEE 802.11 – all well and good if you know what technical standards are, but not exactly the catchiest name in the world.

Interbrand brought the Wi-Fi Alliance a list of 10 different names, but in the end, Wi-Fi was the winner. What it stood for wasn’t meant to have a direct meaning; it was more about what it would conjure up in consumers’ heads.

“We proposed the name Wi-Fi, as customers told us that its similarities to the already widely understood concept, hi-fi, short for “high fidelity” helped them grasp the concept,” said Interbrand. “The name reflects that, even without cables, Wi-Fi delivers a high-quality, lossless connection wherever you go.”

Why has the “wireless fidelity” myth persisted?

So Wi-Fi and hi-fi sound similar and elicit similar thoughts about the products they represent, but according to Belanger, there’s more to why some people are so adamant that Wi-Fi means wireless fidelity.

“The only reason that you hear anything about “Wireless Fidelity” is some of my colleagues in the group were afraid. They didn’t understand branding or marketing. They could not imagine using the name “Wi-Fi” without having some sort of literal explanation,” Belanger explained. “So we compromised and agreed to include the tag line “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity” along with the name.”

“It was a clumsy attempt to come up with two words that matched Wi and Fi. That’s it.”

That tag line was later dropped by the Wi-Fi Alliance after Wi-Fi began to grow in success, but clearly it’s got some long-lasting sticking power when it comes to popular thought.

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