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Steve Jobs 1955-2011:

His Personal Role in the First Consumer Marketing of the Now Ubiquitous Wi-Fi

Jobs St Peter

[Text of 2005 Stanford Commencement Address]

The impact of the iPhone on the wireless industry is well known. The role of Steve Jobs and Apple in the mass introduction of Wi-Fi is less well known. Here is a quote by Cees Links, of NCR’s Utrecht laboratory that pioneered Wi-Fi technology, from the book The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road to Global Success:

The meeting in the Apple Boardroom was an interesting one. Lucent brought some of the most Senior Managers to the meeting, including John Dickson, the Head of the Semiconductor Division, as had Apple. Cordialities were exchanged, business cards handed out, etc. The meeting started at 2:00 PM, the companies at either side of the table, Lucent representatives with suits and ties, the Apple delegation was showing up Californian style. But, no Steve Jobs, the atmosphere became somewhat awkward: Steve had been delayed. Then Steve walks in, Californian style too, walks over to the Lucent side and shakes hands with everyone, needing no introduction. Steve starts talking, wireless LANs are the greatest thing on earth, this is what Apple wants, for about ten minutes straight. I believe Rich tried a few comments, no traction.

Then Steve asks: “Are there any questions?” I tried to show a few slides: key wins, market positioning, product offering, value creation, etc. Presenting slides with Steve Jobs is actually quite easy: you put up the slide, and he will do the talking, not necessarily related to the slide. Then he asks for the next slide. Rich McGinn is chiming in a few words, he thinks 1999 will be the big year for DSL: “Will Apple be ready?” That is: “Will Apple PCs have DSL?” Steve Jobs: “Probably not next year, maybe the year after, depends on whether there is one standard worldwide...” Turning the conversation back to wireless LANs: “We need the radio card for $50, and I want to sell at $99.” Then Steve apologizes, he has to leave – stands up, says “Hi!” and goes. The room falls silent.”

Vic Hayes recently pointed out to me that this price was one third of the 1999 market price whereas the data transfer rate was 5 times higher.


Cees Links expanded on this account in a recent blog post for EE Times. Here’s a part:

That electrifying meeting was the start of a successful joint Apple/Lucent effort that resulted in the launch of the Apple i-Book with wireless LAN and the Airport base station. The key challenges were redesign, integration and working with all suppliers to drive down the cost. Amazingly, in about 6 months time the goal was within reach. It was just a clear example of what a clear vision, the promise of high volumes and purchasing power can do.

More to the vision of Steve Jobs: the launch in 1999 perfectly coincided with the rise of the Internet and the need of people to have Internet access at home, as well as being able to connect multiple PCs in different locations in the home. Within weeks of Apple’s rollout of the new WLAN technology, we received calls for product integration from IBM, Sony, Compaq, HP, Dell, etc.

Because of Steve Job’s vision, today Wi-Fi is a standard feature of every laptop, and of many other devices worldwide

Thanks to Vic Hayes for pointing me to the EE Times post..

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