Wi-Fi is adopting a simplified naming scheme based on version numbers

Wi-Fi version numbers replace combinations of letters and numbers that used to confuse people

The various implementations of the ubiquitous Wi-Fi wireless protocol used to be denoted by inscrutable letters and numbers, like 802.11b, 802.11ac and so forth, confusing a lot of people who do not follow technology on a daily basis. But that’s changing as Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit that manages the implementation of Wi-Fi, has now simplified the naming scheme by adopting comprehensible version numbers, such as Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6.

Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, said:

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. 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.

Here’s why you should care.

Here come your new Wi-Fi version numbers

We’ve had a bunch of wireless protocol iterations so far, ranging from 802.11n and 802.11g to 802.11a, 802.11b and the most recent 802.11ac standard. From now on, this convoluted branding will be replaced by a single-digit variant denoting the version number that corresponds to the major advancements in Wi-Fi, as follows:

  • Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
  • Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
  • Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
  • Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax (2018)

The scheme provides an easier to understand designation for wireless technologies.

Wi-Fi version numbers and technologies they correspond with

The alliance has unveiled all-new Wi-Fi iconography, too.

Branding and visuals

To help differentiate client devices and routers based on their wireless capabilities, vendors and OS makers like Apple will need to adopt Wi-Fi’s new generational representation consistently across their offerings. Just don’t expect the industry to immediately universally adopt Wi-Fi’s new approach to naming because these things take time.

The alliance cannot force anyone to adopt the new branding.

Wi-Fi version numbers and sample user interface visuals

The proposed user interface visuals will adjust as your device moves between Wi-Fi networks, giving you real-time awareness of your connection. Yes, your Mac or iPhone will soon clearly indicate the version of the network you’re connected to.

With multiple networks around you, there’ll be no more guessing which one’s newer and faster.

Wi-Fi version numbers and sample user interface visuals

Of course, all Wi-Fi 5 devices are backwards-compatible with Wi-Fi 4 and older, and the same goes for the latest Wi-Fi 6. Each generation of the wireless protocol offers faster speeds, increased throughput, better experiences and other new features and improvements.

Introducing Wi-Fi 6

At the same time, Wi-Fi Alliance introduced the next-generation of wireless networking, Wi-Fi 6.

Based on the new 802.11ax technology, Wi-Fi 6 is designed to operate in the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrums but will also use bands between 1 and 7 GHz as they become available.

Wi-Fi 6 also takes advantage of MIMO and MU-MIMO.

The above advancements result in up to four times increased throughput versus 802.11ac due to the more efficient spectrum utilization. Aside from the higher data rates, Wi-Fi 6 will also benefit users with solid performance in dense environments and improved power efficiency.

Key Wi-Fi 6 capabilities

Here’s an overview of the new Wi-FI 6 capabilities:

  • Uplink and downlink orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) increases efficiency and lowers latency for high demand environments
  • 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM) enables peak gigabit speeds for emerging, bandwidth-intensive use cases
  • Improved medium access control (MAC) control signaling increases throughput and capacity while reducing latency
  • Increased symbol durations make outdoor network operations more robust

Wi-Fi 6 certification and first devices are expected to arrive in 2019.

Wi-Fi 6 speeds

Korean carrier SK Telecom has managed to push Wi-Fi 6 towards delivering the kind of speeds it says will rival those of 5G cellular wireless networks. Concretely, maximum transmission speeds of up to 4.8Gbit/s were confirmed, or four times the throughput of the existing 1.3Gbit/s theoretical speed supported by the current Wi-Fi 5 standard.

Meanwhile, first Wi-Fi 6 versions demoed at CES 2018 showed a top speed of 11 Gbit/s. We should point out that SK Telecom modified the Wi-Fi 6 protocol to hit those record speeds.

A change for the better

I’m excited for this change because ordinary people couldn’t care less about alphanumeric gibberish like “802.11ac” or “a/b/g/n”. Technology doesn’t need to be intimidating, but cryptic naming schemes certainly don’t make things simpler or easier to understand.

As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber noted, not only were the letters used prior to this change inscrutable, they didn’t even go in alphabetical order.

With the new system based on version numbers, I can intuitively tell which iteration of the standard is better and newer simply by glancing at the numerical sequence. Wi-Fi 5 is higher than Wi-Fi 4 while Wi-Fi 6 is higher than Wi-Fi 5, and that’s all you need to know.


How do you like the new naming system for Wi-Fi generations?

Let us know by leaving a comment below.