Here's Why It's Called 'Wi-Fi'

The origin story is all about marketing.

“Do you have Wi-Fi?” “What’s the Wi-Fi password?” “The Wi-Fi is so slow right now!”

In 2019, the term “Wi-Fi” comes up frequently. But do you know what “Wi-Fi” actually stands for? Or how it got this name? HuffPost decided to explore Wi-Fi’s origin story.

You may be under the impression that Wi-Fi is short for “wireless fidelity.” But you would be wrong. (Don’t worry, the U.S. military apparently believed this for a while as well.)

It turns out Wi-Fi stands for ... nothing.

Wi-Fi is a registered trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, formerly known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. (It’s worth noting that while many people write “wifi,” “Wi-Fi” is the official spelling.)

Wi-Fi Alliance founding member Phil Belanger shared the history of the term with Boing Boing back in 2005. It seems the wireless industry was seeking a user-friendly name to refer to technology that adhered to standards known as IEEE 802.11.

“We needed something that was a little catchier than ‘IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence,’” he explained. The Wi-Fi Alliance hired Interbrand to come up with ideas, and the brand consultancy proposed 10 names, including Wi-Fi (which sounds lot like “hi-fi,” AKA “high 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 continued. “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.”

Contrary to popular opinion, "Wi-Fi" is not an abbreviation for "wireless fidelity."
South_agency via Getty Images
Contrary to popular opinion, "Wi-Fi" is not an abbreviation for "wireless fidelity."

Belanger also noted that “wireless fidelity” doesn’t even mean anything but was rather “a clumsy attempt” to find two words that could go with “Wi-Fi.” Though the tagline, “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity,” appeared in early communications and swag circa 2000, the Wi-Fi Alliance opted to drop it after about a year or so.

“So we were smart to hire Interbrand to come up with the name and logo. We were dumb to confuse and water down their efforts by adding the meaningless tag line,” he concluded. “Please help reinforce the good work that we did and forget the tag line.”

So there you have it. Though “Wi-Fi” may have been a play on “hi-fi,” the name stands for nothing.

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