Wi-Fi Just Got Easier to Understand

Next-generation wireless tech will come to consumers with a simpler label

When the next generation of wireless technology hits the market in 2019, it’s going to be easier for the average consumer to recognize, says the trade group leading a new labeling effort.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, a global coalition of Wi-Fi technology developers, is simplifying 802.11—the wireless network naming convention that has been used to identify different Wi-Fi versions for almost two decades.

Here’s what’s changing.

The wireless standard known as 802.11ac—the current generation in use by most home routers—is now Wi-Fi 5; the previous version, 802.11n is Wi-Fi 4; and the incoming generation 802.11ax will be called Wi-Fi 6.

The new, simpler labels are meant to help consumers more easily identify compatible routers and equipment for their wireless networks. Though not mandated, the alliance—a working group tasked with ensuring devices meet wireless standards—hopes the industry gradually picks up the terminology.

“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,” says Edgar Figueroa, CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, in a news release. “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 alliance says the new labels can be used by product vendors to identify the Wi-Fi technology a device supports, by operating system vendors to identify the Wi-Fi connection between a device and network and by service providers to identify the capabilities of a Wi-Fi network for their customers.

Wi-Fi 6: What to expect
Each new generation of Wi-Fi has brought improvements: faster speeds, increased throughput and better reliability. Wi-Fi 6 promises much of the same, with special attention being directed to better performance around dense wireless signals, such as in stadiums and apartment buildings.

Wi-Fi 6 will operate within the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum and is being targeted for a four-fold improvement in throughput over 802.11n and 802.11ac. Wi-Fi 6 is set to be available in July 2019.

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