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The Networked World - 25th Anniversary
John Cioffi | Bob Metcalfe | Vint Cerf | Vic Hayes | Radia Perlman | Martin Cooper | Tim Berners-Lee

Living Legend: Vic Hayes

802.11 wireless is stimulating innovation worldwide

By , Network World
May 09, 2011 06:02 AM ET
Vic Hayes

Network World - Vic Hayes, sometimes called the "Father of Wi-Fi," hardly fits the conventional image of a "legend." Soft-spoken on the phone, self-effacing, he's less a technological visionary and more of a problem solver.

Read about the other living legends of networking

Hayes was the first chair of the IEEE 802.11 group, which in 1997 finalized the wireless standard for radios that would operate in the unlicensed spectrum opened up in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission.

That ruling sparked the interest of his then-employer NCR, which realized that a wireless standard would let the company, and its retailer customers, create a radio link between NCR cash registers and back-end mainframes. The radio link would make connecting the systems physically simpler, and eliminate the need to fiddle with proprietary protocols.

Although he had a radio background, thanks to his Dutch Air Force training, and NCR experience with data communications protocols, Hayes at first hesitated to accept the chairmanship, until a colleague assured him, "Vic, you can do this."

"This" included a crash course in learning "Roberts Rules of Order."

"I had to get a feeling for that," Hayes says, from his office at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, where, at 69, he is a senior research fellow on the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. "I purchased the book and studied it, so I could lead the group. I very much liked it."

He's not even a big Wi-Fi user himself. He just added a Wi-Fi adapter to an older desktop computer in his home, to connect it to his broadband router. His two laptops also use Wi-Fi and the four devices constitute his home network. His only mobile device: a basic cell phone, without Wi-Fi. "And I use it only for emergencies," he says.

We caught up with Hayes at his university office, where in between international conferences and authoring (most recently co-authoring "The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road To Global Success"), he's helping to launch a new research project that will analyze Wi-Fi deployments in rural areas and developing economies to identify the ingredients of successful wireless broadband projects.

Slideshow: 25 years of networking 

Do you have a sense of how important your technology is to the world?

Oh yeah. I'm so proud that it's there. The first time I saw how good it was, was in our own 802.11 meetings.

When we started working on the standard, we had to make paper copies of our work and then bring them back to distribute them to 120 or 150 members. We spent four to six hours just waiting for hard-copy documents.

In 1998, we started our own wireless network at the meetings, with one of the laptops being a server. One person put all the new documents on the server and within two minutes all 120 people had them.

The second time, I realized how good it was, was when I started to see the user innovations and initiatives in using Wi-Fi for long-range communications in rural areas. Creating networks to bring broadband to the people really makes me happy.

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