eWEEK at 30: WiFi Fills Insatiable Demand for Fast Wireless Web Links

eWEEK 30: When PC Week started publishing 30 years ago, it was a wired world and wireless connectivity was in its early stages. But by 2001, that dream started to become a reality, and now in 2014 it's the norm.

People were tethered to their computers and the networks that connect them via copper or optical cables for most of computer history.

That situation started to change in the late 1990s with the emergence of the IEEE 802.11 wireless standard that set the stage for the first wave of wireless Internet adoption. The wireless revolution has carried forward to this day, with WiFi now increasingly becoming the dominant form of Internet connectivity.

The first 802.11 wireless standard was defined in 1997, but it wasn't until 1999 with the emergence of the 802.11b WiFi standard when things really started to get interesting in terms of both enterprise and consumer adoption. The 802.11b standard defined a wireless speed of 11M bps, which provided first-time users with sufficient speed to access email and Websites of that era.

Though the 802.11b standard was first available in 1999, it took a couple of years until eWEEK declared it ready for widespread deployment. In 2001, eWEEK declared that 802.11b wireless LANs had finally reached a point where we could safely say, "Deploy them."

As time would tell, that first iteration of 802.11b was not quite ready for the broad deployment that exists for wireless technologies today. One of the first big challenges faced by 802.11b and the dream of pervasive wireless connectivity was security.

Wired Equivalency Protocol (WEP) was the initial de facto standard for wireless security and was proven to be insecure in 2001.

"eWEEK Labs believes current WEP offerings are adequate for securing data at smaller sites and home offices, with periodic WEP key changes," eWEEK Labs wrote in March 2001. "However, large enterprises with vital wireless data to safeguard should look to encryption alternatives now available."

WEP was ultimately and definitively proven to be insecure and in 2014 is no longer recommended for use as a security mechanism for WiFi. The WiFi Protected Access (WPA) security standard and its successor WPA2 were hailed by eWEEK and others in the industry by 2003 as being the savior for WiFi security, and it's a technology that largely kept WiFi secure for more than a decade.

"The bottom line is that WPA will be a blessing for sites beleaguered by WEP vulnerability problems, although WPAs user authentication management features should have been in WEP in the first place," eWEEK wrote in 2003. "In addition, WPA's enhanced encryption capabilities mean there will be network throughput implications if WPA is used in legacy WiFi products."

Just as wired Ethernet got faster from its initial deployments, so too has WiFi. The 802.11b WiFi standard first gave both consumers and enterprises a taste of wireless networking freedom, at a leisurely speed of 11M bps, but that wasn't considered sufficient for very long.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.