What Version of Wi-Fi Do You Have?

Wi-Fi, otherwise officially known as IEEE 802.11, is the communications standard by which we can be wirelessly connected to the Internet. Per Wikipedia:

IEEE 802.11 is a set of media access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) specifications for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication in the 900 MHz and 2.4, 3.6, 5, and 60 GHz frequency bands.

The IEEE 802.11 standard was created and is maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802). This committee is made up of interested volunteers from both the academic and corporate space.

Wi-Fi Version IEEE Standard Speed Released
1 802.11b 11 Mbps 1999
2 802.11a 11 Mbps 1999
3 802.11g 54 Mbps 2003
4 802.11n 600 Mbps [5] 2009
5 802.11ac 3460 Mbps [5] 2014
6 802.11ax target of 4 x version 5 [5] 2019

 

We have been using IEEE 802.11 or Wi-Fi for many years now (since 1999), but the standard has evolved as the technology has matured. Subsequent versions of the standard have steadily increased the data access speeds [4]. (NOTE: the table above shows thearetical maximum speed and is not necessarily what you will achieve) The result is that while we have devices that claim Wi-Fi compatibility, and many locations that offer Wi-Fi access, those ‘Wi-Fi’ are not necessarily the same [3].

Fortunately, each subsequent release of the 802 standard is backwards-compatible with the prior versions. That means if you walk into a coffee shop with an older Wi-Fi access point that is still only 802.11n compatible, your iPhone X with 802.11ac will automatically downgrade its connection to match the access point. Likewise if you have an iPhone 5 that is only 802.11n compatible and you are in a location with an 802.11ac rated access point, the communication will be limited to 802.11n speeds. You can check this site to see what you iPhone is capable of.

WFA_CERTIFIED_Flat_Web_LR.pngThe Wi-Fi Alliance is behind the “Wi-Fi Certified” logo that we see on basically every Wi-Fi enabled device [10]. Up until now, Wi-Fi implementations have been certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit that manages the implementation of Wi-Fi, by numbers and letters associated with the corresponding IEEE standard. It has now simplified the naming scheme by adopting more user comprehensible version numbers, such as Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 [2]. While the Alliance will be certifying devices, there is nothing to force vendors to comply with the new branding [2].

ximg_5bb5009db5c3e.png.pagespeed.gp+jp+jw+pj+ws+js+rj+rp+rw+ri+cp+md.ic.ACQJ3NA-Bz

As vendors adapt their device software to the new naming convention, users should see a visual indication, such as those shown above, to indicate which type of Wi-fi network they are connected to [2].

References:

  1. Wi-Fi 6: What’s Different, and Why it Matters
  2. Wi-Fi is adopting a simplified naming scheme based on version numbers
  3. The next generation of wireless networking will be called WiFi 6
  4. The evolution of WiFi standards: a look at 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  5. 802.11: Wi-Fi speeds and standards explained
  6. The new version of Wi-Fi is called Wi-Fi 6 because rules don’t matter
  7. Wi-Fi 6 Will Arrive Next Year; Wi-Fi Versions To Get Simpler Names
  8. Wi-Fi versions to get names people can actually understand
  9. Newest WiFi Version Will Be Called WiFi 6
  10. Wi-Fi is adopting version numbers such as WiFi 6

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