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Wi-Fi Alliance Simplifies Things With Version Numbers

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Most people don't bother to learn the differences between Wi-Fi standards. Those who try are greeted by nonsensical designations like 802.11 a/b/g/n and the like. These monikers have meanings, sure, but it's not easy for the lay person to grok at a glance which is better. The Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new system that uses good-ol' numerals to differentiate between the varying communications protocols and make it easier to know which is the newest.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a non-profit that certifies products using the various wireless communications protocols developed by IEEE. Companies that want to use the Wi-Fi branding for their products have to go through the group. Most do. "Wi-Fi" is something like Kleenex or Q-Tip for wireless standards. Not everyone knows what Bluetooth is, or how NFC works, or what their cellular network is capable of. Wi-Fi is equivalent to "wireless" for them.

This new versioning system reflects the relative disinterest people have in learning about the differences between 802.11a and 802.11ac or any of the other standards available. The Wi-Fi Alliance said that 802.11n will now simply be known as Wi-Fi 4, 801.22ac as Wi-Fi 5 and the upcoming 802.11ax will be Wi-Fi 6. (Apparently with Wi-Fi, much like the original Star Wars trilogy, you don't need to worry about what came before versions 4-6.)

Here's how the Wi-Fi Alliance explained the reasoning behind this new versioning system in its announcement:

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

The non-profit said that the new Wi-Fi designations won't be restricted to spec sheets and marketing materials. Companies will also be able to use them in their products' user interfaces to let people know what kind of Wi-Fi connection they're currently using. That can have a dramatic impact on performance--you might want to use a 2.4GHz band if you're looking for max range, for example, and a 5GHz one if you need maximum speed.

Right now there isn't a great way to figure out which band you're using when you connect to a network. Having your smartphone, laptop, and other devices tell you whether you're using Wi-Fi 4 or 5 would be an obvious improvement. That isn't up to the Wi-Fi Alliance, though, so individual companies will have to decide if they want to make this information more readily available to their customers. Hopefully most of them decide to do so.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said this new versioning system will officially go into effect when 802.11ax (sorry, Wi-Fi 6) debuts sometime in 2019. It's not clear if companies that want to use Wi-Fi 4 or 5 to refer to 802.11n and 802.11ac will do so before the new version comes out.

  • tom10167
    I like it. The letters had no real significance, it should have happened ages ago.

    Plus, it'll be nice to see product descriptions no longer being forced to write "Supports 802.11AC, 802.11N, 802.11G and of course that archaic 802.11b and even that 802.11a that nobody ever used."
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    sounds good to me as well. something like wifi 6/1600 would be rather easy to understand that it's the 6th gen wifi and can handle speeds up to 1600 mb/s.

    of course i did not have any issues with b/g/n/ac and so on either
    Reply
  • compprob237
    "(Apparently with Wi-Fi, much like the original Star Wars trilogy, you don't need to worry about what came before versions 4-6.)"

    Does that also mean that 7 will be meh and 8 will be awful?
    Reply
  • beoza
    Not sure if I like this or not. Part of me says if it ain't broke don't fix it, and the other part can see the advantages for the less tech savvy folks out there. I will give them credit for trying to simplify things before it gets too out of hand. It's not near as confusing as CPU and GPU naming conventions in recent years.
    Reply
  • derekullo
    If you watch WIFI 5 backwards, it's about a magical Wifi Doctor who reattaches headers and forwards packets to a place far, far away.
    Reply
  • vern72
    I like the new convention if it can be considered a "marketing name" then have the old convention as its formal, technical name
    Reply
  • Solandri
    21371699 said:
    sounds good to me as well. something like wifi 6/1600 would be rather easy to understand that it's the 6th gen wifi and can handle speeds up to 1600 mb/s.
    That's actually another problem they still need to deal with. When you buy an AC1900 router, it's not really capable of 1900 Mbps. It's typically 1300 Mbps on the 5 Ghz band, 600 Mbps on the 2.4 Ghz band.

    Unless your computer has got two separate wireless cards using some sort of channel bonding, you're never gonna get 1900 Mbps from that router to a single device. But some marketing dweeb saw 1300 Mbps @ 5 GHz and 600 Mbps @ 2.4 Ghz, and since 1900 > 1300 or 600, they decided to just add the two together to create a meaningless 1900 marketing number to plaster on the box. Once one company started doing it, all the other companies accurately labeling their boxes as 1300 @ 5 Ghz, 600 @ 2.4 Ghz had to follow or lose sales to naive buyers thinking 1900 > 1300.
    Reply
  • velocityg4
    I'm just waiting for all the threads.
    - My new computer has WiFi 5. Will it work with my 802.11ac router? Should I buy a new one?
    - Should I buy this WiFi 5 or 802.11ac router?
    - My new computer and router are WiFi 5. When it connects my computer says 802.11ac is being used. How do I force it to connect to WiFi 5?... Then after much argument that they are the exact same thing and citing multiple articles they'll keep insisting it is slower than it should be.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.
    Unless they want to know what generation all of their existing wireless equipment from the last couple decades belongs to, since it's still going to be using the 802.11 numbers. I guess people are expected to buy all new wi-fi 6 hardware to be updated to the new naming scheme.

    They likely did this to make previous generations sound more outdated than they really are. For most people, the benefits of Wi-fi 6 will likely be minimal compared to existing wireless hardware with support for 802.11n/ac.
    Reply