Electricity and Connectivity – A Hollywood Actress and Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is our common term for an internet connection—a child can understand that their tablet will not work in the car because there is no Wi-Fi there. But what is Wi-Fi, really? And where did it come from? 

Wi-Fi is a way of getting broadband internet to a device using wireless transmitters. These transmitters convert internet data into a radio signal that enables the transmitter and the device to exchange information. 

If you were to look up the “history of Wi-Fi” you would come across the dates 1971, 1985, and 1997. The first is the year that the University of Hawaii publicly demonstrated the use of a wireless packet data network. Then in 1985, the US Federal Communications Commission released specific radio bands for unlicensed use by anyone.  This began a “wild west” period for wireless communication as technology companies scrambled to create their own wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks.  

With so many different companies making their own version of Wi-Fi, there was a lack of common standards across platforms; competing networks and devices were incompatible with each other. Enter the year 1997, when a committee of industry leaders—now known as the Wi-Fi Alliance–approved the common standard of 802.11. On the surface, it seems strange to give the moniker “802.11” to anything, but this actually refers to radio channels. Wi-Fi-equipped devices listen to a channel for other users before transmitting each frame of information to reduce interference in the broadcasted radio signals. 

While Wi-Fi has had many “fathers,” such as Vic Hayes who chaired the Wi-Fi Alliance, it has one prominent mother: Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was the wife of an ammunitions manufacturer whose controlling jealousy prompted him to bring her with him to prominent meetings discussing scientific innovations.  

As tensions in Europe began to rise at the advent of the second world war, Kiesler fled to America where she became a naturalized citizen. Now going by the name Hedy Lamarr, she became a Hollywood actress. However, as the war began to rage, she felt a keen desire to do her part, especially when she learned of the Navy’s difficulties with radio-controlled torpedoes. Together with an artist she recruited to put her designs down on paper, she created what was known as the “Secret Communications System.”

Her system constantly changed frequencies, making it difficult for enemies to decode the radio messages and making torpedoes stealthier. 

In 1942, Lamarr filed a patent for the Secret Communications System. It was not used during the war because the US military felt the technology was too new and complicated, plus it had come from a civilian. However, years later in the 1950’s, her invention saw use in the private sector as new network technology began to take flight. The US Navy finally utilized her ideas during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960’s. Since those days, Wi-Fi has evolved into the multi-faceted tool we know and use today. 

Join us next time as we explore the internet of things and the soda machine that changed the world.  

For more information on KMC Controls products, please visit https://www.kmccontrols.com/, your one-stop turnkey solution for building control. We specialize in open, secure, and scalable building automations, teaming up with leading technology providers to create innovative products that help customers increase operating efficiency, optimize energy usage, maximize comfort, and improve safety. Let our Building Geniuses® take your facility to the next level. 







Secret Communications System Picture

Cuban Missile Crisis Picture

Hedy Lamarr Picture

Wi-Fi Picture