October 4, 2018 // 11:29 a.m.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced it is putting an end to the confusing letter-based versioning of its Wi-Fi standards, turning the upcoming 802.11ax into Wi-Fi 6 and retrospectively simplifying its predecessors to boot.
While the name Wi-Fi - chosen for its similarity to hi-fi - is recognisable the world over, less technical users can struggle to understand which version is better than which other version and which versions can talk to each other thanks to a downright minatory naming convention: The first experience most will have had with Wi-Fi will have been 802.11b, and while 802.11a was technically better it proved unpopular in the consumer market and was supplanted by 802.11g in 802.11bg dual-format devices, which has itself been upgraded to the better-still 802.11n and the even-better 802.11ac, while the next generation of devices will support the top-end 802.11ax - neither of which should be confused with 802.11bgn, which simply combines 802.11b. 802.11g. and 802.11n support in a single device.
In short: The Wi-Fi naming convention is a mess, and the Wi-Fi Alliance agrees. As a result, it's throwing the current naming out - though it will remain present for more technical users - in favour of a consumer-friendly whole-number increment system which sees 802.11n rebranded to Wi-Fi 4, 802.11ac to Wi-Fi 5, and the upcoming 802.11ax to Wi-Fi 6.
'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,' admits Edgar Figueroa, president and chief executive of the Wi-Fi Alliance. '[The] 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 change won't be immediate: Official certification under the new 'generational' naming convention won't begin until some time next year, the Wi-Fi Alliance has confirmed.