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We just collectively, wrongly assumed what 'Wi-Fi' stood for

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For many, Wi-Fi conjures images of seamless internet connectivity, a lifeline to the digital world. But the name itself doesn’t give off many signals about what it means. While commonly thought to be an abbreviation for “Wireless Fidelity,” akin to “Hi-Fi” for high-fidelity sound, the truth is a little less literal.


The true story behind Wi-Fi’s moniker can be traced back to the ingenuity of Interbrand, a branding agency responsible for iconic names like Prozac and Compaq. Faced with the uninspiring technical term “IEEE 802.11” in 1999, Interbrand knew this wouldn’t resonate with the mainstream. Its solution? A name that was catchy and memorable that hinted at the technology’s function.


Curiously, inspiration struck not from the world of radio waves, but from the world of audio equipment. “Hi-Fi,” a term signifying “high fidelity” sound reproduction, had been a mainstay in marketing since the 1950s. Interbrand saw an opportunity for clever wordplay. Thus, “Wi-Fi” was born—a name that cleverly but unofficially referenced the established “Hi-Fi” brand while alluding to the concept of wireless fidelity (a term, ironically, never officially used in technical circles).




Per Interbrand:



The name had to be memorable—something universal you could find in your home, the office, a coffee shop, or on public transit and something that helped consumers intuitively understand the concept.


The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization now responsible for certifying Wi-Fi products, even used the tagline “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity” for a short while, unintentionally solidifying the misconception.


So, if it’s not “Wireless Fidelity,” what is it? The answer is simply Wi-Fi. It’s a brand name, chosen for its catchy sound and positive connotations.


According to Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance:



Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for anything. It is not an acronym.


Says Interbrand:



We proposed the name Wi-Fi, as customers told us that its similarities to the already widely understood concept, hi-fi, short for “high fidelity” helped them grasp the concept. The name reflects that, even without cables, Wi-Fi delivers a high-quality, lossless connection wherever you go.


The brilliance of “Wi-Fi” lies in its simplicity. It’s short, easy to pronounce, and evokes a sense of reliability and quality—all crucial elements for a new and unfamiliar technology. Eventually, it transcended technical jargon and became a household name.





Image: Andrei Dzemidzenka | Dreamstime.com

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