Wi-Fi has a long history. NCR and AT&T invented the first version back in 1991 to support wireless cashier systems. It was the brainchild of Vic Hayes, who started working on it for NCR as early as 1974. The telecom and data industries quickly saw its potential and, by 1997, the IEEE standards-setting body established an open standard called “IEE 802.11b Direct Sequence.”
That standard did what standards are supposed to do: kicked off rapid commercial development. A trade association formed to help market the technology, to which it gave the much catchier name of “Wi-Fi.” With its ability to quickly and cheaply connect devices, Wi-F advanced rapidly through a series of generations to the present 802.11 ac standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6. Each generation brought greater speed and efficiency, lower power consumption and better performance in challenging environments.
Applying Wi-Fi to Energy and Mining
Today, Speedcast’s systems integration customers are installing Wi-Fi from one end of a facility to another, whether it is an oil and gas platform, a wellhead on land, a process plant or a mine and mining camp. That’s a major change from just a few years ago, when Wi-Fi or LTE coverage was provided only in the living quarters, where it allowed crew to connect their phones or laptops for calling, email, social media or entertainment.
What are customers doing with Wi-Fi outside crew quarters? It is supporting wireless sensors, personnel trackers, vehicle tracking devices, remote-controlled valves and a big range of other Internet of Things (IoT) systems. From a welfare feature, Wi-Fi has become essential to daily operations.
Why is Wi-Fi Critical?
Wi-Fi has become the standard for the industry for a simple and powerful reason. Everyone has a device in their pocket that can immediately connect to a Wi-Fi network. Laptops and tablets have built-in Wi-Fi capability, and every IoT device on the market can use it.
There are other technologies, principally private LTE and WiMax, that offer longer range and a greater ability to penetrate walls. But they require specialized handheld or fixed terminals; private LTE, despite its name, does not operate in the same bands as your mobile phone to avoid interfering with them. Their principal use in energy, mining and business networks is in connecting separate structures: individual buildings in a campus or mining camp, or multiple wellheads in the same area. But once inside that structure, a local Wi-Fi network supports the people and devices at work there, linking back through the LTE or WiMAX link to other Wi-Fi networks and the facility’s backhaul connections to the world.
Technology changes fast. That’s why Speedcast systems integrators are required to take continuing education courses every year to keep up with the latest. But technologies that meet a fundamental need and do it well can have a very long life. As IoT continues to transform energy, mining and enterprise operations, it will continue to ride on a standard born three decades ago that keeps stubbornly proving its worth every day.