Wi-Fi Generation Names

In October 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA @ wi-fi.org) announced a new marketing scheme to brand different generations of Wi-FiTM. The initial three brands are summarized in the following table as described in the WFA Generational Wi-Fi User Guide.

Highest level of technology supported Generation Name

Band (GHz)

802.11ax Wi-Fi 6

2.4 & 5

802.11ac

Wi-Fi 5

5

802.11n Wi-Fi 4

2.4 & 5

 

Why the change?

This change created somewhat of an uproar in the Wi-Fi technical community for those unable to embrace change.  The change speaks most directly to early competition and a desire to differentiate from the rollout of 5G/LTE based platforms.  The marketing arm of 5G has traditionally been very aggressive in targeting consumers on the latest mobile technology, promising increased bandwidth, lower latency, and higher capacity compared to 4G.

To cut to the chase, the reason for the change comes down to ease of recognition for end consumers.  Consumers will find it easy to recognize and refer to Wi-Fi 6TM.   The alphabet soup of IEEE802.11 standards is cute for WLAN technologists to argue about.  If you believe the average consumer cares about 802.11ac or 802.11ax, you are in a technology bubble.  The simple answer is consumers don’t care and don’t understand what 802.11ax means.  Wi-Fi 6 is a simple, recognizable way to differentiate a technology and create demand across the consumer space.

WFA example of approved Wi-Fi generation logos

 

Many Wi-Fi technologists refer to the various standards with their amendment letters assigned by the IEEE.  This dependency ignores that amendments are rolled into the main standard about every four years.  Once rolled in, the amendment letters refer to historical documentation and are more accurately referenced as clauses within the IEEE 802.11 main standard.

An example of this amendment to the clause mapping is shown in the table below taken from a recent roll-up of the 802.11-2016 standard:

Amendment

802.11-2016

Clause Number

Clause Name

802.11

15

DSSS PHY

802.11a

17

OFDM PHY

802.11b

16

HR/DSSS PHY

802.11g

18

ERP (PHY)

802.11n

19

High Throughput (HT)

802.11ac 21

Very High Throughput VHT)

802.11ax

N/A

N/A

The latest roll-up of the 802.11 standard is available for download, free of charge at: http://standards.ieee.org/findstds/standard/802.11-2016.html. The 802.11-2020 standard was approved on December 3rd, 2020 and can be found here: https://standards.ieee.org/standard/802_11-2020.html.

Many technologists refer to encryption options as none, WEP, WPA, and WPA2.  This sequence intertwines naming conventions from two different standards and certification bodies – the IEEE and WFA.  The industry is already using multiple terms from various industry bodies to refer to similar concepts.  This trend is not something new, we just quickly need to adopt the new Wi-Fi 6 branding.

Some people asked what how the industry and consumers would refer to 802.11 a/b/g based on this new number standard.  Would 802.11b be referred to as Wi-Fi 1?  The answer is a resounding…NO.  The Wi-Fi Alliance meticulously detailed valid applications of this new naming scheme in the points below:

  • The format of generation names is simply “Wi-Fi” followed by a whole number.
  • Generation names shall not contain additional text or description.
  • Generation names shall not have versions identified. For example, Wi-Fi 5.1, Wi-Fi Version 5.2, or Advanced Wi-Fi 5 shall not be used.

The Wi-Fi 6 specification covers both the 2.4 & 5 GHz bands.  On April 23, 2020, the FCC adopted new rules allowing use of 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (5.925 – 7.125) available for unlicensed use.  While the IEEE-802.11ax standard allowed for this, the WFA wanted to differentiate the extension of 802.11ax into the 6 GHz band from the original two bands.  In order to easily differentiate this subtle difference to consumers, the WFA adopted the use of Wi-Fi 6ETM in reference to 802.11ax extending into the 6 GHz band.  The “E” of course stands for ‘extended’, as in ‘extended into the 6 GHz band’.  Note, the ‘E’ should always be capitalized.

 

WFA description of Wi-Fi 5 Certified https://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wi-fi-certified-6

 

The updated table from above now appears as:

Highest level of technology supported Generation Name Band (GHz)
802.11ax Wi-Fi 6E 6
802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 2.4 & 5
802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 5
802.11n Wi-Fi 4 2.4 & 5

 

As you can tell, the WFA is very concerned about brand awareness and how their brands are presented across the Wi-Fi ecosystem.  As a brief overview of the WFA brands can be found here: https://www.wi-fi.org/who-we-are/our-brands.

One last point – something that many articles and blogs get wrong: At the next pub trivia night, when asked “What does ‘Wi-Fi’ stand for?”, answer the question correctly.    The short answer is that it does not stand for anything.  It’s simply a cool sounding name that has become one of the most recognizable communication technology brands on the market.  Some falsely believe ‘Wi-Fi’ is short for Wireless Fidelity, as it resembles ‘Hi-Fi’, used by audiophiles and home audio enthusiasts to refer to high fidelity or high-quality reproduction of sound.

 

Slàinte!

 

 

 

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