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Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6: names, meaning, standards and news

Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4: these are the new names of the 802.11ax, 802.11ac and 802.11n standards to better understand which type of Wifi is in use.

With a decision signed in 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance ruled that the name of  commonly used WiFi technologies should change. A matter of standardization: in order to avoid names that are excessively long, complex and difficult to understand, a new rule is needed that can foster dialogue between producers and buyers. The old terminologies related to the evolution of the IEEE 802.11 protocol must therefore be retired, replaced by a much simpler nomenclature. Keep an eye on the names, so: Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 are going to come out on the market.

The names of the Wifi

  • Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax)
  • Wi-Fi 5 (IEEE 802.11ac)
  • Wi-Fi 4 (IEEE 802.11n)
  • Identification icons

The analysis must necessarily be carried out backwards since it is with Wifi 6 that the new way of labeling the types of connectivity in use begins. Starting from the new compatible devices (on the market since 2019), therefore, the parent company will be forced to use the appropriate icon, extremely intuitive, with which it will be possible to understand at a glance which type of connectivity is provided on the device in use.

Although the transposition has not been formalized, it is easy to deduce how in the intentions of the Wi-Fi Alliance the “Wi-Fi 1” indicates the 802.11b, “Wi-Fi 2” the 802.11a and “Wi-Fi 3” the 802.11 g: backward compatibility of the protocols and age of the devices did not make the formalization of the old standards necessary, therefore left to the original nomenclature.

Deprecated immediately any possible deviation from the standard: there will never be a Wifi 5.1, for example, nor a Wifi 6 + or similar: the label and the icons are unique and define the standard in use, sanctioning a strict limit that no initiative marketing will affect. It is forbidden to generate confusion, in short.

Wi-Fi 6

The Wi-Fi 6 corresponds to the protocol  IEEE 802.11ax, developed to operate on the spectrum at 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz (with extension to 1 GHz and 7 GHz as soon as available), expected to release in 2019. It is a version designed for high-density environments of connected devices and of people present (where assembly can lead to easy overloads on the devices), guaranteeing speed and energy efficiency in network management.

According to the indications of the Wi-Fi Alliance, the supervisor of certification and standardization of Wi-Fi technology, the sixth generation promises to be able to manage streaming of high-definition movies, mission-critical business applications and above all the full stability of the connection even when operates in heavily congested areas (airports, stadiums, stations, etc.). The latter seems to be the real goal of the new release, as this is the real bottleneck that technology is facing. The goal is achieved in particular thanks to OFDMA (“Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access”) technology which allows the simultaneous management of several sub-channels dedicated to different devices.

Among the prominent features of Wi-Fi 6 there is also the low latency: this peculiarity can become fundamental where the reaction times need an extreme reduction, in order to offer an experience as realistic as possible. These areas include cloud gaming, where the controller’s connection capacity directly affects the responsiveness of the game and the gaming experience.

The Wi-Fi 6 certification is expected to be useful and meaningful, as well as on commonly used devices, also in the IoT and smart home environment.

Wi-Fi 6 becomes reality in parallel with the arrival of 5G: the two technologies are destined to proceed in parallel, acting in a complementary way for the full coverage of the spaces and to offer a truly always-on experience in all conditions of use . The two technologies will therefore not go against each other, on the contrary: Wifi and mobile connectivity will continue to act according to today’s practice, offering with the respective peculiarities the best of the service to ensure users a convenient and efficient access to their online services.

Wi-Fi 5

The Wi-Fi 5 corresponds to the protocol  IEEE 802.11ac: released in 2014, operates on the 5GHz frequency and represents an evolution of the previous release “n”. At the time of the redefinition of the Wifi nomenclature, 802.11ac represents the most advanced standard available, focusing on bandwidth and MIMO flow management the greatest possibilities offered compared to the previous versions. Approved in 2014, the standard was developed to increase the speed of data transfer, thus achieving extremely superior performance.

Wi-Fi 4

The Wi-Fi 4 corresponds to the IEEE 802.11n protocol: approved definitively in 2009, it operates on both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies and greatly increases the possibilities offered compared to the previous 802.11g and 802.11b. The standard was born at the time with the aim of extending the reach of the networks, previously intended exclusively at home and business level, to a new spatial dimension.

Identification icons

From the Wi-Fi Alliance also comes specific indication relative to the icons that the manufacturers can use to define the type of Wifi with which the device is compatible. A specific icon must be used directly on the device, a fixed and unique graphic element that leaves no room for interpretation:

On flyers, illustrative guides, packaging and more, instead, the use is more free, but must strictly use the numbers 4, 5 and 6 to identify the type of Wifi to which reference is made. These are some examples proposed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to explain the concept:

The hope is that the manufacturers will quickly begin to adopt the new nomenclature so that they can foster full understanding of the same by the user and the consequent full awareness at the time of purchase.

What does Wi-Fi mean? Anything

If the final number defines the generation of the technology, and therefore the intrinsic characteristics of the protocol and compatible devices, the origin of the term “Wi-Fi” is less clear. Or rather, the term Wi-Fi simply means nothing.

Although in time it was thought that it could be an acronym deriving from ” WIreless FIidelity ” (in assonance with the very popular Hi-Fi), in reality Wi-Fi is simply a commercial name, so registered following the original invention to define the ‘ IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence, but not necessarily double-linked to some abbreviation.

Furthermore, Wi-Fi and Wireless are in no way synonymous: Wireless indicates the “wireless” dimension, which also includes the Wi-Fi world. However, the term “wireless” is also used for other technologies and other standards, which excludes a two-way relationship between the two terms.

The origin of the Wi-Fi name

The problem of the name began in 1999 by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), an embryo of the current Wi-Fi Alliance. The passage was delicate: the goal was to create a universally recognized standard, with great potential and whose name therefore played a fundamental role. The task of the proposal phase was entrusted to Interbrand (the same group that gave rise to well-known brands such as Prozac, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Nissan Xterra), from which came 13 proposals. Among these a small set of names were chosen for the final adoption: Trapeze, Dragonfly, Hornet and Wi-Fi. Although “Trapeze” was initially the most appreciated by the board appointed to the decision, it was finally “Wi-Fi” the chosen one: it won thanks to its brevity.

Over time, the name has become commonplace, evolving into something universally known to transform itself from a brand’s own name to a simple common name of thing. This different meaning has also led to a further abbreviation: although the name is born with the hyphen, this last symbol has been deprecated by many editorial best practices that have so often transformed the name into “Wifi”.

The confusion around the name “Wi-Fi” has grown further following the title ” The Standard for Wireless Fidelity ” used by the Wi-Fi Alliance to describe the standard: the original sin of the confusion over the name was thus cleared through customs within the document that also formalized the logo which later became public domain. Only a year later the word “Wireless Fidelity” has disappeared from the official papers, without however providing substitute explanations.

So today we know exactly what the term “Wi-Fi” describes, but in fact the name itself has no meaning or semantic root. The subsequent numbers, defined in 2018 by the Wi-Fi Alliance, describe in detail the type of IEEE 802.11 standard adopted.

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