What Does WiFi Stand For?

Posted by Lisa MacGillivray

Monday, December 14, 2015

For something that most people use every day, not very many people actually know the true meaning of it - I’m talking about WiFi.

As you know, WiFi is the way in which we wirelessly connect our devices to a network and then to the internet. Chances are you are reading this very post on a laptop or smartphone connected to your home or work WiFi, or on a public network. It is a piece of technology that, for wifi-hotspot.jpgmany of us, would be near impossible to live without. We even recognize the WiFi icon as a sign that we can connect our devices. Basically, it is something you would think that we could explain or define.

You may be thinking, “That’s all great, but what does WiFi stand for?”

“WiFi” stands for….nothing.

That’s right, the term “WiFi” is actually meaningless. It is not an abbreviation. The term was coined via a branding agency when the creators of the wireless standard (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, or, WECA - now the Wi-Fi Alliance) wanted a more user-friendly name than IEEE802.11b. Also worth noting - the trademarked term is actually “Wi-Fi,” but usages such as “WiFi” and “wifi” are commonly used instead (mostly because companies can get around the legality of the copyright issue).

At the time, in the late 1990s, the term “Hi-Fi” was becoming popular. It was used to describe high quality radio sound in devices like speakers and TVs. So when a new name was needed for this technology, rhyming it with such a popular term seemed like a great idea. In fact, since “Hi-Fi” is short for “high fidelity,” most people just assumed that “WiFi” was the abbreviated version of “wireless fidelity,” or, a high quality degree of wireless technology. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Not only were people making the connection between high fidelity and wireless fidelity on their own, but the Wi-Fi Alliance itself used the following tagline: “Wi-Fi: The Standard for Wireless Fidelity.” That caused a ton of confusion around the true meaning of WiFi, and some people still swear that “wireless fidelity” is the true meaning.

The Story Behind "WiFi"

For additional backstory on how this term was coined, and where the confusion started, here is an excerpt from Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

It (Wi-Fi) is not an acronym. There is no meaning.

Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We (the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance) hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence"....

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. So we compromised and agreed to include the tag line "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity" along with the name. This was a mistake and only served to confuse people and dilute the brand....

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

And there you have it - the true meaning of WiFi (or, Wi-Fi). Did you think WiFi was short for "wireless fidelity?" We'd love to hear your thoughts on this - just leave a comment below!


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Topics: FAQ, Wireless Networking