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Why Wi-Fi Technology Is Getting a Name Change

The Wi-Fi Alliance is simplifying the name of Wi-Fi technology. But why?

The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced a change to the name of Wi-Fi technology, which with every generation has been some iteration of “802.11” and letters that follow it (i.e., 802.11ac). To the everyday user, there isn’t a simple rhyme or reason for this string of numbers and letters, and when they try to identify which Wi-Fi generation a device supports, it can be hard to know which is the latest iteration and which is the fastest.

Here’s the timeline of Wi-Fi names that began in the 1990s and why this scheme is changing.

History of Wi-Fi naming conventions

In the 1990s, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) first introduced standards for WLAN technologies as the 802.11 standards, which really just referred to Wi-Fi itself. 802.11a and 802.11b were then released to the public and these standards had pretty low speeds. Because there weren’t many mobile devices or laptops in 1999, the slowness wasn’t much of an issue.

The addition of a and b to the name seems like a reasonable first step. But, 802.11g was the next major iteration in 2003. Then, in 2007, 802.11n was introduced.

As wireless devices increased in number quickly in the following years, the technology had to keep up to support faster speeds and more devices. This is when 802.11ac came into play, which has also been referred to as “Gigabit Wi-Fi.” It supports the higher data transfer speeds that modern users and devices now require.

The next generation of the Wi-Fi standard is technically 802.11ax, certified for 2019. However, with this new generation also comes a new common name: Wi-Fi 6.

New name, new performance

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced the new name for Wi-Fi standards with the release of Wi-Fi 6 in 2019. As such, the two previous Wi-Fi standard generations will become Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n).

So, why is this change necessary? Put simply, the Wi-Fi Alliance wants to make it easier for people to understand and match the different Wi-Fi designations. Users must understand which technology their devices support, and using the simpler names will help them make the connection.

The new naming sequence corresponds only to the “major advancements in Wi-Fi,” as the Wi-Fi Alliance says. And, it goes beyond the benefit for users. The alliance says that product vendors, OS vendors, and service providers will use the names to better identify what a device can support as well as the abilities of a given Wi-Fi network.

Because each Wi-Fi technology generation has been an improvement—with faster speed, more throughput, and better performance—users can now easily identify the kind of experience and quality they’ll be getting with each iteration. Users will to know just by seeing the simpler Wi-Fi name on their screens whether they should expect faster or slower speeds.

The president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, Edgar Figueroa, said that users will no longer have to “sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi.”

Wireless network monitoring tools from 7SIGNAL

A big part of keeping up with the latest Wi-Fi changes and newly released technologies is having a network monitoring plan in place. At 7SIGNAL, we know that the only way you can successfully adapt your strategy is to test and track what’s going on continuously and make updates accordingly.

Our wireless network monitoring solutions empower you to make decisions about your organization’s network based on real-time performance data. If your company depends on mission-critical Wi-Fi, it’s important to monitor the network 24/7 for performance issues. Crucially, our tools monitor Wi-Fi performance from the client’s perspective, so that you can detect problems before end users notice any changes or drops.

7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.