The Wi-Fi Alliance, the trade group that develops and promotes wireless networking standards, is attempting to make Wi-Fi naming a bit simpler with the introduction of 802.11ax next year.
The plan is to brand the new specification as “Wi-Fi 6,” rebrand 802.11ac as “Wi-Fi 5,” and 802.11n as “Wi-Fi 4,” making it easy to tell at a glance which standard is newer and, hence, faster.
The current naming uses IEEE’s terminology. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers oversees development of a wide range of electrical and electronic standards. The standards are organized into groups; IEEE 802 covers all local area network standards. 802.11 specifically covers Wireless LAN.
The 802.11 group produces dated standards every few years, most recently 802.11-2016, and then publishes amendments to these standards. The amendments are named alphabetically, and it’s these amendment names that have come to be used to refer to particular Wi-Fi technology. For example, the original 802.11-1997 standard was amended by 802.11a (54Mbit/s over 5GHz radio), 802.11b (11Mbit/s over 2.4GHz radio), and 802.11g (45Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) and, correspondingly, we see devices claiming to support 802.11a/b/g. Most of the other letters are also used to define additional features.
802.11ax is an amendment to the 802.11-2016 standard. It’s designed to bring higher speeds and lower battery consumption to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, with more efficient spectrum usage. Current draft 802.11ax hardware can support 1.1Gbit/s over 2.4GHz and 4.8Gbit/s over 5GHz, and demo systems have reached 11Gbit/s. The final standard is expected to be produced next year.
The version-based branding is only being used for 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax; there won’t be any versions 1, 2, or 3 (though there are three precursors to 802.11n: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g, so the version numbers do make sense). The Wi-Fi Alliance has also produced logos that it hopes will be used in operating systems (though not product packaging) to indicate which level of connectivity is being used.