Wi-Fi versions to get names people can actually understand | Cyber Security

Fed up with navigating alphabet soup when trying to buy fast wireless networking that reaches from one end of the house to the other?

Then rejoice, for the high priests of Wi-Fi just made your life – and the lives of wireless network equipment vendors everywhere – a little easier. The next generation of Wi-Fi networking technology has been renamed Wi-Fi 6.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry group that certifies equipment to support the 802.11 wireless networking standard, has introduced a new, easier numbering system to distinguish different of the networking protocol. 

While the IEEE standards body ratifies new versions of the 802.11 protocol that underpins modern Wi-Fi equipment, it is the Wi-Fi Alliance that provides the technical profile that vendors can use to implement the protocol in their equipment. It also operates the certification programme that lets them qualify their devices as Wi-Fi compatible. 


Historically, the Alliance used the IEEE’s numbering convention when certifying Wi-Fi equipment, a decision that might have spawned more bewildered conversations in consumer electronics stores than anything else in computing history. It can be complicated evaluating different Wi-Fi access points because there are different extensions to the original standard, represented by different letters.

The original 802.11 standard was first ratified in 1997. The first extension was 802.11a in 1999, offering 54Mbit/sec at 5Ghz, and 802.11b in the same year, offering 11Mbit/sec at 2.4GHz. Then, 802.11g offered the higher bandwidth at the lower 2.4GHz frequency, meaning higher bandwidth at longer range. Meanwhile, 802.11n offered even higher bandwidth and better range thanks to its antennae design. Then came 802.11ac in 2013, which offered even more capacity, once more using the cleaner 5GHz spectrum.