Wi-Fi Generation Numbering

The Wi-Fi Alliance has launched new numbering for the different Wi-Fi versions and standards naming them as Wi-Fi generations: IEEE 802.11ax is Wi-Fi 6, etc

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Key Wi-Fi standards / variants:     802.11n     802.11ac     802.11ax Wi-Fi 6     802.11be Wi-Fi 7     Details of other standards variants    

Wi-Fi generation numbering with numbers like Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 have recently been introduced into common usage. In previous years, the different versions of Wi-Fi have been designated by standards from the IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the USA.

The Wi-Fi standards are all in the series IEEE 802.11, with different standards like IEEE 802.11ac, etc.

These are not very user friendly for the average users, so the Wi-Fi Alliance has launched a new Wi-Fi generations numbering scheme with numbers like Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6, etc.

These provide a much easier way of differentiating the different Wi-Fi generations far all users whether technical or not.

What is the Wi-Fi Alliance

The Wi-Fi Alliance is an industry organisation that has been set up to promote the use of Wi-Fi. It provides many services including the promotion of Wi-Fi technology as well as certifying Wi-Fi products so that users can be assured they will interoperate with other Wi-Fi products.

The Wi-FI Alliance is a non-profit industry organisation to which companies interested in Wi-Fi standards, promotion of Wi-FI and the like can belong. The Wi-Fi Alliance is headquartered in Austin, Texas, USA.

Certification of Wi-Fi products is one of the key functions of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and devices can be submitted to them for certification of conformance to the specifications.

Once certified, Wi-Fi devices are able to display the Wi-Fi Alliance certification logo. However, just because a device does not display the logo does not mean that it is necessarily does not interoperate with other Wi-Fi devices, as the cost of certification may not warrant its being submitted.

Wi-Fi generation numbering aims & benefits

The Wi-Fi generation names provide many new advantages over using the older IEE standard names which were long and not particularly user-friendly.

The new Wi-Fi generation names provide manufacturers, operators, and end users whether they are commercial or domestic with a far easier way of naming the different types of Wi-Fi. This includes the description for the Wi-Fi technology contained in a device and the connection that device makes with a Wi-Fi network.

The new generational Wi-Fi names include several elements:

  • Wi-Fi generation names:   Using generation numbers to name the different Wi-Fi standard provides a far more user friendly scheme which more can understand.

  • User interface visuals:   By having different user interface visuals, the numbers can be linked more easily to a user interface.

  • Wi-Fi Alliance certification program names:   having defined names will enable users to quickly identify the certification to the required generation of Wi-Fi.

  • Wi-Fi Alliance certification program logo:   Having a well defined logo will help products to be labelled in a definitive an easy to identify manner.

These are the main aims of the Wi-Fi generation naming scheme.

Wi-Fi generation names

The new Wi-Fi naming scheme easily identifies the different generations by using a numerical sequence, each one of which corresponds to a major advancements in Wi-Fi technology.

These generation names: Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, etc can be used by the product manufacturers to identify the level of performance that can be supported and what the user can expect. It can also be used by other companies like OS vendors to identify the generation of Wi-Fi connection between a device and network, and also by service providers to give an easy definition of the capabilities of a Wi-Fi network.

By using a numbering scheme, it is easier to see the progression of the different generations of Wi-Fi. It would not be obvious to many people that IEEE 802.11ac was the next generation from IEEE 802.11 n. Whereas it is much easier to see that Wi-Fi 6 is the next development on from Wi-Fi 5.

As most people are well aware of the concept of wireless communications technology generations from the mobile business where 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G are commonly used, the new Wi-Fi generational scheme differentiates them from mobile communications, whilst still adopting a familiar approach.

Wi-Fi Generation Number / Name IEEE Standard
Wi-Fi 0 ** IEEE 802.11
Wi-Fi 1 ** IEEE 802.11b
Wi-Fi 2 ** IEEE 802.11a
Wi-Fi 3 ** IEEE 802.11g
Wi-Fi 4 IEEE 802.11n
Wi-Fi 5 IEEE 802.11ac
Wi-Fi 6 IEEE 802.11ax
Wi-Fi 6E IEEE 802.11ax with coverage of 6 GHz bands
Wi-Fi 7 IEEE 802.11be

Note:   ** The Wi-Fi generations in grey and with a double asterisk , i.e. Wi-Fi 0 - 3 are by inference only. They are not actually defined or mentioned in the Wi-Fi Alliance publicity. However it does help identify why the numbering has been created in this way.

It is worth noting, that even though the basic system was initially launched in 2019, and Wi-Fi 6 had just started to be used, the term Wi-Fi 6E started to appear. This stands for Wi-FI 6 Extended and it refers to the extension to Wi-Fi 6 following regulator approvals to allow 6GHz band operation. Wi-Fi 6E will provide the capability for up to 14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional 160 MHz channels in the 6 GHz band. This will give the bandwidth needed for applications such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality as well as being able to support more users at the same time in very dense environments.


WiFi Alliance Certification Program Names

One of the key issues with any certification process, apart from setting the standards and testing, is to ensure that there is unambiguous marking of certified product.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has addressed this and beginning with the Wi-Fi 6 generation, the certification programs for major standards releases in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands will use a Wi-Fi generation name on the product and within the product data sheet.

The certification associated with Wi-Fi 6 technology, i.e. IEEE 802.11ax will be marketed as Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6.

As this is a new introduction, previous certification program names will not be adjusted, but will continue as Wi-Fi CERTIFIED ac, for IEEE 802.11ac, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi CERTIFIED n, for Wi-Fi 4 IEEE 802.11n.

The Wi-Fi Alliance naming scheme for the different Wi-Fi generations provides a really easy way for describing the level of a particular product. It is far easier and more comprehensible for most people to talk about Wi-Fi 6 than IEEE 802.11ax. As Wi-Fi technology moves forwards and as the scheme becomes better established, the different levels of Wi-Fi will be able to be understood far better by the majority of users.

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