Alumnus Jerry Pohmurski, '88, was Among the Early Pioneers of Wi-Fi
A self-proclaimed “radio geek,” Pohmurski was interested in ham radios and radio frequencies from an early age. His father was a professor of engineering at Kent State, and Jerry spent many happy days while growing up tinkering with equipment and components.
After graduating with a degree in engineering from Kent State in 1988, Jerry went to work at a small start-up company in Cleveland that was trying to integrate cell phone technology into a laptop. Unfortunately, that company ran out of money and Jerry ended up at a company called Telxon in Akron, Ohio, that made electronic handheld devices used for inventory control in warehouses.Telxon spun off another radio-based company called Aironet.
“They wanted us to find a way to transfer the barcode data collected on the handhelds back up to their mainframe computer without using a physical docking device, using radio waves instead,” says Jerry. “We wrote a little software program to do that and tested its limits by playing video games to see how much data it could handle without crashing. Video games chew up a lot of bandwidth. Basically, we broke it and then figured out how to fix it, time and time again, until we could send larger and larger amounts of data at faster and faster speeds.”
In 1995, Pohmurski became the liaison between Telxon and Aironet – where Wi-Fi development was taking place. A consortium of companies was working on the original spec for Wi-Fi – there are hundreds of names on the spec called 802.11B.
“We were conducting interoperability testing – the handshaking stuff – so that different devices could talk to each other. That’s easy to do within one company, but we have to be able to talk to many different systems in the world and interact with them. We ran tests to ensure that everything worked together to get the spec to finally go through,” Jerry says.
Wi-Fi wasn’t actually called Wi-Fi in the beginning; it was known by the acronym WECA (for Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance - 802.11B direct sequence). Jerry was working for Cisco by this time.
“Needless to say, my boss at Cisco wanted a name that was a bit more flashy,” says Jerry. “He hired a marketing firm to come up a better name and they came up with seven options, one of which was Wi-Fi.”
When his boss went to Seattle to pitch Microsoft, he gave them the names.
“I think Bill Gates was the one who picked Wi-Fi,” says Jerry. “The thing is, it doesn’t really stand for anything. It was just a take-off on hi-fi (high fidelity). Just a catchy name.”
Jerry got to know many of the people he worked with on Wi-Fi development, and remains friends with several of them. None of them thought Wi-Fi would become the commodity that is now is.
“We never, ever thought that the technology would ever be in such wide use as it is today. It just never occurred to us,” says Jerry. “We didn’t start out to do what it has become today, it just happened. In 2003, when people started using it in their homes, is when it really took off.”
Pohmurski and his co-workers have formed lasting relationships that have spanned many years. They play in bands together and golf together.
After several years with Cisco, and then working as a consultant, Jerry is now officially “retired.” But lately his friends have reached back out to him to work on some new applications for Wi-Fi.
“I have some ideas I’d like to explore,” he says. “So many things have been created as an offshoot of Wi-Fi, especially in the medical field. We’ll throw them against the wall and see what sticks. Should be fun.”
Pohmurski is keeping those ideas under his hat for now, but stay tuned. The future is still being made in Wi-Fi, so don’t be surprised if the name Jerry Pohmurski pops up again as part of the “next big thing.”