As the resident nerd in my family and here at NAG, it becomes quite a mission to get through the quagmire of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s wireless standards and relate them in ways that people without a technical understanding might be able to grok. 802.11 has long been the base standard for Wi-Fi, and it’s been updated with extra designations like a/b/g/n/ac/x that all mean different things and will give you a different experience. Instead of continuing to use the name of the standard to differentiate routers and their capabilities, the Wi-Fi Alliance today announced a new initiative to simplify things. This has, as one might expect, just made things slightly more complicated.

In a press release posted on their website, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that they would be ditching the 802.11[xxxx] naming scheme in favour of a new naming convention, replacing the standard name with a single digit number. The changes mean that routers and their packaging will need to be altered to reflect the following change:

  • 802.11ax is now Wi-Fi 6
  • 802.11ac is now Wi-Fi 5
  • 802.11n is now Wi-Fi 4

And so on.

“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,” explains 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.”

Part of the change is intended to drive consumer adoption of newer Wi-Fi standards, which is necessary because of how congested the airwaves are in the cities. Getting consumers to understand than 802.11n devices may still use 2.4GHz networks instead of 5.0GHz on 802.11ac which is much less congested is a bit of a mission, and most router manufacturers barely follow the standards in the first place when it comes to marketing. Now it’ll be a simpler affair – the higher the number, the gooder it is. The more edgy the standard name, the gooder it is also.

Moving forward, all routers have to bear this new naming standard in 2019. The “Wi-Fi [x]” naming scheme can also be deployed for open Wi-Fi networks to tell consumers that they’re connecting to a particular kind of network, and we can eventually expect this to be shown as part of the SSID broadcast when you’re looking through the list of Wi-Fi networks in your area to join. As it is, I have the network frequency listed in my SSID for the networks at home, so this should simplify things quite a bit.

Where confusion may creep in is in mid-step standard updates. Between Wi-Fi 5 and 6 is the 802.11ad standard, aka WiGig, aka Wireless Gigabit Alliance. This was the first Wi-Fi standard that was set to ship with routers supporting WPA3 encryption and was catered towards mesh networks and operating through multiple walls at longer distances, but the 802.11ad standard requires one additional antenna and consumes more power. There are routers supporting this standard that can be bought today and its low latency improvements make it suitable for use in wireless VR headsets, but the 802.11ax standard, aka Wi-Fi 6, doesn’t need the extra hardware. Because it supersedes 802.11ad, it’s going to be the next point update instead of the older standard.

Likewise, there are Wi-Fi 4 devices that support the 802.11n standard on either the 2.4GHz range or the 5.0GHz range. They’re not that common because Wi-Fi 5 devices typically support 5.0GHz networks today, but they were readily available for many years. Is it still considered a Wi-Fi 4 router if it supports the 5.0GHz band? Do we call that Wi-Fi 4.5? That will all have to be ironed out before CES 2019, where new devices are expected to use the new naming scheme.

Now, people, can we sort out USB-C in the same way please?

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