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New Wi-Fi is coming, here’s what it means to you

Have you heard about Wi-Fi 6? Nope, that’s not the latest techno-thriller movie sequel starring The Rock. It’s actually a tech term you’ll be hearing a lot of from now on.

Currently, how do you know if your Wi-Fi router is current? You go by the letters. 802.11g … 802.11n … 802.11ac … sounds confusing, no?

With all the numbers and letter pairings you need to know about, shopping for the latest and greatest in Wi-Fi routers can be baffling.

But don’t worry, that’s about to change! Read on and see what’s in the books for the future of Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi by the numbers

If you can recall, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit body that defines and promotes the standards of Wi-Fi technology, said that Wi-Fi standards will adopt version numbers moving forward.

Soon, instead of 802.11b (the first Wi-Fi standard implemented in 1999), it will be called Wi-Fi 1 instead. The latest standard, 802.11ac, will be called Wi-Fi 5 because, of course, it’s the fifth version of Wi-Fi. 802.11ac’s successor (802.11ax) will then be called WI-Fi 6, so on and so forth … you get the drift.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said that hardware companies will be adopting this naming change in the near future and will retroactively apply the names to older standards, too.

Note: Don’t confuse 802.12 Wi-Fi Standards with Wi-Fi Security Protocols like WPA2 and the upcoming WPA3. The former mostly deals with data transfer rates/wireless frequencies while the latter is for encryption and data protection.

Beyond hardware

This does make a lot of sense especially for average consumers who are not into the nitty-gritty specs of Wi-Fi standards. Even better, the latest versions are backward compatible so a higher Wi-Fi version router will always be compatible with lower-version gadgets, too. This means that the higher the Wi-Fi version a router has, the better it is and the more likely it will work with all of your gadgets.

Here are the pending naming changes:

Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax (2019?)

The Wi-Fi Alliance also said that the naming changes will even apply to software. For example, when you connect to your phone or laptop to a Wi-Fi network, your gadget will tell you what Wi-Fi versions are available. With these indicators in place, you will always know which connection is better for your device.

What is 802.11ax aka Wi-Fi 6?

The next generation Wi-Fi standard 802.11ax, soon to be known as Wi-Fi 6, is still currently in draft but it is expected to roll out as soon as 2019.

As usual, Wi-Fi 6 will support faster speeds than its predecessor 802.11ac. In fact, it will be around four to 10 times faster due to the utilization of a wider band and multiple channels.

With its support for bi-directional Multiple Input/ Multiple Output (MIMO) streams, a 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 can achieve a theoretical total throughput of 16 Gbps. With this capacity, it can easily deliver 1 Gbps speeds to compatible gadgets with ease.

Another advantage of Wi-Fi 6 is its capability for frequency division and reuse. This means it can divide a channel into smaller sub-channels, resulting in less congestion and interference.

With these advancements, expect Wi-Fi 6 gadgets to have better battery life too since data is delivered more efficiently with less packet waste.

Another Wi-Fi 6 feature that can help conserve battery life is something called “target wake time.” Basically, this allows a Wi-Fi 6 router to tell clients’ Wi-Fi radios when to sleep and when to be active.

What is 802.11ad and 802.11ay?

Aside from 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6, there are other Wi-Fi standards that are on the horizon.

802.11ay is the next-generation Wi-Gig protocol, which can reach theoretical speeds of 8 Gbps and even beyond.

And like WiGig/802.11ad, 802.11ay will probably won’t be adopted for general use because of its weak wall penetration and short reach.  Based on its advantages and limitations, to take advantage of the promised speeds of WiGig, both device and router will have to be in the same room with a direct line of sight.

It has its advantages, though, While current Wi-Fi protocols can operate on the 2.4 and 5 GHz radio spectrums, WiGig, on the other hand, uses the higher bandwidth 60GHz spectrum. The 60GHz band provides the ultra-wide channels needed for the ultra-high transfer rates that are not possible with the 2.4 or 5GHz bands.

The higher bandwidth and lower congestion of 60 GHz spectrum also allow for lower latency and real-time data transfers critical to VR, gaming, and display mirroring technologies. Multiple 4K streams will also be a relative breeze in the wider 60 GHz spectrum. It may have its limitations, but Wi-Gig does have its benefits.

Since Wi-Gig will be a specific use protocol, it won’t get the same numbered treatment as 802.11ax,

Sounds good! Where do I sign up?

Although this change is definitely inevitable, obviously it will not happen overnight. But since the Wi-Fi Alliance is made up of the movers and shakers of the tech world, we’re expecting the eventual total adoption of the naming changes.

The transition may be slow to avoid confusion, but when Wi-Fi-6-labeled gadgets start appearing next year, companies and consumers will begin realizing how much better this new naming scheme really is.

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