CSIRO Wi-Fi invention to feature in upcoming exhibition at National Museum of Australia
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CSIRO Wi-Fi invention to feature in upcoming exhibition at National Museum of Australia

When a team of CSIRO researchers challenged themselves to create wireless internet that runs as fast as the quickest wired network, they didn't think the result would end up in millions of pockets.

Fast-forward 26 years and the National Museum of Australia has chosen the 1992 CSIRO wireless local area network Test Bed to be the Australian addition to its upcoming exhibition, A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Graham Daniels, Terry Percival and John O'Sullivan with their Test Bed prototype.

Graham Daniels, Terry Percival and John O'Sullivan with their Test Bed prototype.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

The Test Bed is about the size of a mini-fridge is extremely chunky compared to today's minuscule Wi-Fi chips, but the precursor to modern Wi-Fi was once state-of the art technology.

It increased indoor wireless data transmission rates from 10 megabits per second to greater than 50 megabits per second and stopped signals from distorting when radio waves reflected off walls and furniture.

The Wi-Fi team's project director John O'Sullivan, project leader Terry Percival and senior research scientist Graham Daniels presented their original invention at the museum on Wednesday.

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One piece of technology used in the Test Bed came out of Mr O'Sullivan's failed experiment into exploding black holes.

"When we set out we knew it was going to be big, but I am just blown away when I see everyone walking around with phones and Wi-Fi and the impact it has had," he said.

Although it felt good to turn the black holes failure into a success, it wasn't an easy journey.

Mr Percival said they didn't reach the end without countless arguments in front of whiteboards and in meetings.

"The challenge was getting the ideas right with what is a very hostile environment of bending radio waves around the room with people moving, with objects in the room moving," he said.

"It really is a very tricky problem that we solved."

Their persistence didn't stop at the Test Bed, which was the largest of their many prototypes.

As proud as he was of his team's achievements, Mr Percival joked about the consequence of the many young people glued to their phones and whether it will get worse as Wi-Fi keeps speeding up.

National Museum of Australia director Mathew Trinca said he was delighted that the Test Bed would be on show at the Museum.

"It's an invention that has led to a transformation into how we communicate today and we all take that for granted," he said.

"It is the bedrock of how we live and it was because of an Australian innovation," he said.

A History of the World in 100 Objects opens in Canberra on September 9 and is a collection of objects that explores the past two million years of human history.

Clare Sibthorpe is a reporter for The Canberra Times