Wi-Fi version names finally make sense

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home Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi 6 is coming, and you don't have to care which version of 802.11 it is. You will care that it'll make public Wi-Fi better, though.
Photo: Alan Levine/Flickr

802.11ax will soon get a public release, but you won’t be left trying to remember if it’s better than 802.11ac or 802.11n. That’s because every version of Wi-Fi is getting renamed with a simple system that anyone can understand.

The next generation is going to be called Wi-Fi 6, which is obviously better than its predecessor, Wi-Fi 5.

A simple numerical sequence

“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, in a statement. “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.”

Only experts will need to care exactly what wireless technology is in the latest version. Consumers just need to know that 6 is bigger than 5.

The Wi-Fi alliance is retroactively renaming all previous versions:

  • 802.11ax: Wi-Fi 6
  • 802.11ac: Wi-Fi 5
  • 802.11n: Wi-Fi 4
  • 802.11g: Wi-Fi 3
  • 802.11a: Wi-Fi 2
  • 802.11b: Wi-Fi 1

A broad swath of wireless-related companies are on board with the new naming system. That includes Netgear, Intel, Qualcomm, Boingo, Broadcom, and more.

Welcome to Wi-Fi 6

While 802.11ax will be up to 30 percent faster than its 802.11ac, speed is not its main goal. Instead, Wi-Fi 6 will enable far more devices to have a wireless connection at once.

Surely everyone has been to a sporting event, convention, or even restaurant where the free Wi-Fi access has been overwhelmed. This will happen far less with the next version.

Unfortunately,  the 802.11ax standard  only received approval from the necessary Wiu-Fi Alliance committee this summer, so full approval won’t happen until next year. 

Even so, Wi-Fi 6 routers are already on sale. When the first iPhones, iPads, and Macs will appear with support for this emerging standard is anyone’s guess. That said, Apple almost singlehandedly launched commercial Wi-Fi with the 1999 iBook, so the wait probably won’t be too long.