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Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio: Dawn of a Wireless Technology Paperback – August 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Wi-Fi was a huge success. But knowing how the story ends doesn't take away any of the wonder and enjoyment of reading a first-hand account of how it all came to be...and thanks to Hills and his team at Carnegie Mellon, we have a technology that...we don't really have to think much about. - James Floyd Kelly,

Dr. Hills has now written a book, Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio, that supplies an engaging look at a key the history of wireless..there's a little technology here, but that's delightfully mixed with personal anecdotes, an interesting cast of characters, and, again, some history we really don't want to lose.-Craig Mathias,Network World

This fascinating and little known story is the subject of a new book, Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of's the account of how Hills, with the help of his team and overseas colleagues, overcame major obstacles to create the world's first wireless campus at CMU, an unfathomable idea in 1993. - Deb Smit, Innovation

This fine book, the memoir of a pioneer in the development of Wi-Fi, will interest a wide variety of readers, technogeeks...and anyone in search of a good read. Alex Hills...writes beautifully, with an appealing style of clarity and authority. He is also humble, eschewing the title of inventor of Wi-Fi that some have given him.--Bill Klykylo, CQ

In the mid-1990s Alex Hills built a huge wireless network at Carnegie Mellon University that became the prototype for modern Wi-Fi networks--a story he tells in his book Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio. - David Pogue, Scientific American

From the Inside Flap

"After bringing modern communications to Alaska's Native villages,
Dr. Alex Hills continued on to make great contributions in the
world of wireless technology. Dr. Hills is a fine writer and teacher,
so I have no doubt that his book will be both fascinating and entertaining."
-- Walter J. Hickel, (1919-2010),
former United States Secretary of Interior

"I know of no one so capable of telling the Wi-Fi story and explaining
so clearly how the technology works. Alex Hills is certain to
capture the public imagination with this new book."
-- Jim Geier, Principal Consultant, Wireless-Nets, Ltd. and Wi-Fi author

"Alex Hills has contributed to the developing world and to developing
advanced wireless technology at one of the world's most techsavvy
universities. Working on both frontiers, Dr. Hills pioneered
wireless Internet and launched a revolution in the way the world
communicates. His story of how we "cut the cord" begins in a place
where there were no cords to begin with -- remote Alaska."
-- Mead Treadwell, Lieutenant Governor of Alaska and
former Chair, United States Arctic Research Commission

"Being from Alaska, I am aware of the great contributions Dr Alex
Hills made to my state in building its communication systems.
Later, I discovered the importance of his Wi-Fi work through an
article about him in The Economist. Alex's work has raised the
quality of a lot of people's lives, including mine."
-- Steve Cowper, former Governor of Alaska

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing, LLC (August 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1457505606
  • ISBN-13: 978-1457505607
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,357,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alex Hills conceived and built the world's first large Wi-Fi network at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is Distinguished Service Professor of Engineering and Public Policy. And Dr. Hills is well known in Alaska for his role in developing the state's broadcast and telecommunications systems. He worked in the 1970s and 1980s to build public radio stations across Alaska and to develop the state's telecommunications networks so that even small villages could receive radio, television and telephone service. An inventor with thirteen patents, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and he was Alaska's 2007 Engineer of the Year.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dan on November 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As someone who joined the Carnegie Mellon technical staff just as Alex's WiFi revolution was getting started, I found this to be a thorough and fascinating review of the trials and tribulations that pre-dated my involvement in the project. Even better than the history, though, was the storytelling. Alex has put together a compelling page-turner, with enough of a dash of tech to make the book appeal to anyone interested in WiFi and how it became the ubiquitous presence it is today.

Highly recommended!
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Format: Paperback
Today on my campus students walk around looking at small screens of iPhones, BlackBerrys, iPads, and Laptop computers. Wireless is everywhere thanks to the original work of Alex Hills. This book tells the fascinating tale of what it was like to build the first campus Wi Fi network.

Like Alex Hills I too was a "ham" radio operator in high school and experienced the vagaries of radio signals. In the late 1950's we experienced exceptional sun spot activity which I was told made for some very interesting DXing (ham lingo for signals that went a long distance around the earth). Just as Hills tells us in his book, I remember this time as phenomenal for being able to connect with other ham operators around the world. I also remember the "bad boys" aspect of the hobby with noise and interference that came and went as I listened to my short wave receiver. I also remember that in the city where I grew up we had an AM broadcast station, WKBW, which was reported to reach all the way to the tip of Florida and out into the Caribbean at times, yet I could not receive AM stations from other places much closer. Surely this thing called radio was strange.

I was late to the business of wireless networking at my home and only in recent months installed a wireless access point - after pulling wires for hundreds of feet from one end of the house to the other over the past fifteen years. It is possible, but a very time consuming and frustrating task. Fast forward to today and I step out of my office and see a plastic cylinder about ten inches in diameter and three inches high with blinking LED's, and there is one about every hundred feet down the hall - wireless has taken over my building here at the University of Minnesota.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Amazon's book description says "At 36,000 feet, Wi-Fi converts our airline seats to remote offices. It lets us read email in airports, watch video in coffee shops, and listen to music at home. Wi-Fi is everywhere. But where did it come from?"

One review is entitled "This is how WiFi happened..."

Sounds tempting, but if you want the answer to these issues this is not the right book. However, it is a good book about the author's career excitement with wireless technology in both a rural area and an urban university as well as in amateur radio.

But the Wi-Fi part is really about how the author engineered the first wide area Wi-Fi system (named Andrew) at the Carnegie Mellon University campus. The author did not develop Wi-Fi and does not claim he did so. This book references The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road to Global Success by Wolter Lemstra, Vic Hayes, and John Groenewegen in which Prof. Hills is credited for his innovations in the engineering of wide area networks. If you want a duller description but more detailed description of where Wi-Fi came from and its adoption, go to the Lemstra, Hayes & Groenewegen book.

But this book is a lot more readable and is quite interesting about what it actually discusses. Unfortunately the back cover information, Amazon description, and some of the reviews are misleading about what exactly is covered.
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Format: Paperback
This is a light and easily readable trip thru the airwaves. We travel with the author as he describes his journey as a young ham radio operator in suburban New Jersey, then thru his spearheading of radio and cellular installations in rural Alaska, and on to his role as leading edge Wi-Fi creator, designer, and implementer in Pittsburgh, PA.

Along with some good old-fashioned human interest story telling, the path he describes is in mostly reader-friendly technical terms. The author details a good bit of the basic science, engineering, and natural obstacles (hence, the "Bad Boys") around radio transmission and reception.

But the story eventually centers in on events in Pittsburgh (at Carnegie Mellon University to be specific) where the author leads a crack team of engineers and technicians as they are determined to harness the power of wireless transmission (and tame the "Bad Boys") to create the first high-speed wireless network.

An enjoyable and educational gift for nerds, wanna-be geeks, weekend techs, and just plain folks curious enough to want to know more about radio and, more specifically, Wi-Fi and its beginnings. It also depicts a wonderful success story, namely in how a project proceeds from vision to final product thru knowledge, people power, determination, and hard work.
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I met Alex at the University of Alaska in the late 1980s and instantly liked him because of his joy at stretching technology. I'm an electrical engineer and now I write communication software that relies on WiFi and other wireless networks. I had lots of fun reading about the early days of wireless networking.

Alex gives you a good view of how things are developed. I like the descriptions of university life and interactions with companies. He talks about what makes the process work - the people that drive it because they get excited about seeing their ideas become real.

Alex's ham radio stories were great. I connected with them because as a kid, I built a ham radio receiver and listened to those guys clicking out Morse code - but voice was a lot more understandable to me. My uncle was a ham before WWII and I had played with his gear up in my grandmother's attic. When Alex described the difference between a key and a bug - I was right there with him.

I'm sending a copy to my uncle who now lives in England and, at age 90, still has a 'wireless' rig that he uses to chat with other hams.
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