Wi-Fi technology has been connecting us for over twenty years and plays a huge role in our everyday lives. From PCs and phones, to watches and cameras, to televisions and game consoles, to refrigerators, doorbells, and my personal favorites - outdoor sprinkler and pool systems, Wi-Fi seems to be configured in nearly all our devices. For many, Wi-Fi’s availability is nearly ubiquitous, in our offices, homes, cafes, airports, hotels, schools, libraries, and stadiums, almost like oxygen in the atmosphere.
The lockdown periods during the recent COVID-19 pandemic helped demonstrate our global reliance on Wi-Fi technology and its ability to keep us working, learning, communicating, connected, and entertained. However, this period also cast a light on the many who still lack convenient Wi-Fi access and who are at risk due to a real digital gap. In response, many national and local governments, together with private companies and charitable organizations helped people stay connected and enabled new access programs for those in need.
June 20th is World Wi-Fi Day, which is a time to “celebrate the significant role Wi-Fi is playing in cities and communities around the world by driving exciting and innovative projects to connect the unconnected.” The event is led by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, the industry group that helps showcase and promote new Wi-Fi technologies.
In addition to the WBA, since the early days of Centrino, Intel has maintained leadership roles in the key industry groups (IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance) that have defined and enabled every generation of Wi-Fi technology. Therefore, World Wi-Fi Day provides a great opportunity for us to chronicle Intel’s Wi-Fi journey – from 2003 Centrino to 2021 Wi-Fi 6E and beyond.
Below Are 5 Key Intel-Related Wi-Fi Items to Remember on This Special Day
1. Intel Centrino Helped Unwire the World
Eighteen years ago, Intel helped spark the wireless revolution with the launch of Intel Centrino technology, a novel bundle of platform ingredients which included a new mobile processor, mobile chipset, and Intel’s first Wi-Fi card for laptops. Alongside the new mobile computing platform focus came an ambitious $300 million “Unwire” marketing campaign and enabling program that helped setup and/or verify thousands of new Wi-Fi hotspots across the world. Many were located in airports, cafes, hotels, and other busy places that allowed people to experience the untethered mobile computing Wi-Fi experience firsthand.
“Intel’s Centrino effort represented one of the great technology inflection points in the market,” said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, in 2011. “It drove us from a largely wired computer world to one that freed us from those cables and allowed our PCs to roam along with us.”
The liberating impact of Intel’s Centrino program is hard to overstate for many veteran employees who can still vividly remember the pre-Centrino laptop days, which required lugging around ethernet cables and power cords to every meeting, and the sense of urgency to be among the select few able to plug into a limited number of conference room sockets.
2. Intel Centrino Helped Influence the Global Wi-Fi Hotspot Explosion and Wi-Fi’s Ubiquity
In 2003, IDC estimated there were around 50,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide. In that same year, Intel’s “Connect with Centrino” hotspot program specifically documented the verification and enablement of more than 25,000 Wi-Fi hotspot locations across several countries and thus provided an early catalyst that helped influence exponential Wi-Fi growth. A recent Cisco report estimated that in 2021 there are approximately 500 million public Wi-Fi hotspots currently in operation globally. This represents a massive 10,000X level of increase in the worldwide public Wi-Fi hotspot footprint over the last 18 years.
3. Intel Wi-Fi Is the Leader for PCs
Intel retired the Centrino platform brand in 2010 but continued to drive its Wi-Fi business forward. Intel’s Wireless Communication Solutions engineers, today part of the Client Computing Group, worked diligently to build innovative and market-leading solutions. Through this effort Intel began a multi-year journey that resulted in its recapturing of the #1 PC Wi-Fi vendor position by 2016, and has enabled Intel to deliver advanced first-to-market Wi-Fi technologies for PCs which include:
- 2018: Wi-Fi 5 (Gigabit)
- 2019: Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+)
- 2020: Wi-Fi 6E (Gig+)
A renewed focus on whole-system performance and experiences, boosted by Intel’s Project Athena, which evolved into the latest Intel® Evo™ platform brand, has helped the Intel PC Wi-Fi business extend its leadership position over the last several years.
4. Over 1 Billion PCs Have Shipped with Intel Wi-Fi
The pandemic prompted a generational shift to the required work-from-home and learn-from-home environments, helping return the PC market to historic volumes. During this same period, in 2020, the Intel Wi-Fi business accomplished a major milestone: over 1 billion cumulative PC Wi-Fi cards had been shipped since the momentous Centrino platform launch in 2003.
5. Intel Has a Continued Focus on Wi-Fi Innovation
The dramatic growth in Wi-Fi availability and device penetration, coupled with the increased usage that took place since 2003 all occurred over the same small number of available unlicensed wireless channels within the over-crowded 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
This environment will begin to change in 2021 and beyond, as more laptops begin to appear with new Intel® Wi-Fi 6E solutions. Wi-Fi 6E technology will permit access to the newly opened, unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum which will become increasingly available across more countries in the next few years. It’s being called “the biggest Wi-Fi technology advancement in 20 years,” and likened to “a VIP network experience” that enables major improvements in speed, latency, and reliability. These benefits will result from the ability of Wi-Fi 6E products to operate unencumbered from the interference and congestion of legacy Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6 devices which will not be able to access this new spectrum. (Learn more about Wi-Fi 6E and the entirety of Intel’s Wi-Fi product range.)
Intel continuously aims to improve platform Wi-Fi experiences for end users. As one example, Intel acquired Rivet Networks in May 2020; and its Killer line of products includes a suite of gaming-focused wireless performance enhancing tools. The next step for Intel will be to also enable these networking intelligence capabilities for mainstream PC platforms, for not just better gaming performance but also for enhanced productivity, seamless video conferencing, smooth high-definition entertainment streaming, and more.
Looking to the Future
Over the last two decades, Wi-Fi has grown to become nearly ubiquitous and an essential tool in our everyday lives. Intel is delighted to have been able to lead and contribute to Wi-Fi technology’s incredible evolution and to help improve connected PC platform experiences for users worldwide.
We would like to thank the Wireless Broadband Alliance for its continuous efforts to promote Wi-Fi technology, and especially for hosting the annual 6/20 World Wi-Fi Day event which gives us all the opportunity to reflect on Wi-Fi’s amazing history and promising years to come.
The future for Wi-Fi continues to be very bright as next generation improvements, coupled with industry and government collaboration, are poised to enable new usages, and also help connect more people and devices across the globe.
Learn more on how Intel is charging ahead with game-changing Wi-Fi innovation.