The Wi-Fi Alliance has finally figured out that the versioning system it’s been using to describe the different generations of the technology is simply not intuitive, or easy to understand by the average consumer.
It’s amazing that this realization took decades to materialize, but hey, let’s focus on the good news. And that’s the fact that Wi-Fi generations now have version numbers.
So, what was previously known as 802.11n is now Wi-Fi 4. The standard formerly known as 802.11ac will go by Wi-Fi 5, while the upcoming 802.11ax is going to be called Wi-Fi 6.
If you’re wondering what happened to 1, 2, and 3, well, the Wi-Fi Alliance isn’t talking a lot about those since they aren’t widely used anymore (thankfully). But, for reference, here’s how they are assigned: 802.11b is Wi-Fi 1, 802.11a is Wi-Fi 2, and 802.11g is Wi-Fi 3. Why is b equivalent to 1 and a equivalent to 2 even though these standards were both launched during the same month (September 1999)? Who knows.
That one oddity aside, the new system instantly makes sense. 6 is better than 5, and so on. No more guessing whether ac trumps n or ax is better than ac. Sanity is about to be restored in the wireless world. Well, not entirely, since marketing materials for routers still add up speeds achieved on different bands in parallel to give you one huge useless “total” number on the box.
Interestingly, the Wi-Fi Alliance wants to see the new numerical branding in software user interfaces too (see the samples above). So in the future don’t be surprised if your phone or laptop will show what Wi-Fi version a network is offering before you connect to it, and what Wi-Fi version you’re connected to. That way if you see two networks, one showing a 4 and the other one a 5, you’ll instantly know which one should perform better.