What Does Wi-Fi Stand For?

Hint: It's not "wireless fidelity."

Long gone are the days of dial-up and waiting for your turn to use the computer. It’s easier than ever to connect to the internet, in more ways than one, in the digital world today. This is mostly thanks to Wi-Fi. Like URL and .com, Wi-Fi has become part of our everyday digital lingo, but do we really know what it is? Here’s a quick rundown of what Wi-Fi is and what it stands for. After brushing up on this, don’t forget to browse these acronym examples everyone should know.

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a wireless network that uses radio frequency signals to connect to the internet or send messages between devices, without wires. Everything from your phone and laptop to tablets and printers can use Wi-Fi, thanks to these waves. In 1997, a committee of industry leaders approved a common, more compatible Wi-Fi standard. Two years later, a group of companies formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA, now the Wi-Fi Alliance), a global nonprofit organization created to promote the new wireless standard, according to Britannica.

But can you get Wi-Fi without internet? According to Miranda Yan, founder of VinPit, you can. Yan says using a Wi-Fi USB Dongle can allow you to connect to the internet. Yan also explains that you can connect to public Wi-Fi at certain locations (like restaurants and coffee shops), set up a personal hotspot, and tether your smartphone to your computer with a USB cable to get online. 

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What does Wi-Fi stand for?

None of Wi-Fi’s history explains what it actually stands for because the phrase doesn’t stand for anything. Wi-Fi is a trademarked term describing the device or technology based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) wireless communication standard 802.11, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. That’s a mouthful, so the Wi-Fi Alliance hired the marketing company Interbrand to come up with another name: Wi-Fi, according to one of the founding Alliance members.

There’s some debate surrounding the question “What does Wi-Fi stand for?” The rumor that it stands for “wireless fidelity” is thanks to the Alliance. Some members didn’t understand the branding or marketing for Wi-Fi. They felt consumers would want an explanation for the name. So the Alliance agreed to include a tagline: The Standard for Wireless Fidelity. That’s why so many people assume Wi-Fi stands for “wireless fidelity,” but the tagline came after the name. Plus, the Alliance removed the tag, although the confusion it brought still lives on today.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.