Wi-Fi has a brief history, and it’s been over two decades. It was invented and first released for consumers in 1997 when a committee called 802.11 was created, which further lead the creation of IEEE802.11, a standard that defines communication for wireless local area networks (WLANs).
There are different types of Wi-Fi standards, like your router, laptop, tablet, and smartphone all use different wireless standards to connect to the internet. There’s has been a continuous development and it changes rapidly bringing faster internet with better connectivity, which perhaps leads the Wi-Fi standards to the confusing.
What Are Wi-Fi Standards?
Well, Wi-Fi has different standards for a different set of services and protocols, which also dictate how your Wi-Fi network (and other data transmission networks) acts. The most common set of standards are the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN (WLAN) and Mesh.
Fun fact, the IEEE updates 802.11 Wi-Fi standards very frequently and currently, the Wi-Fi standard is 802.11ac. The next-generation Wi-Fi standard will be 802.11ax, is in the process of rolling out pretty soon.
As we are done with what Wi-Fi standards are. Here are different types of Wi-Fi standards that persisted in the Wi-Fi world. Mind you, not all old Wi-Fi standards are out-of-date, there are some that still works.
IEEE 802.11: This standard was created in 1997, and now this standard is not functional. It served a blazing fast maximum connection speed of megabits per second (Mbps). However, this standard will won’t work with today’s equipment.
IEEE 802.11a: Created in 1999, this version of Wi-Fi works on the 5GHz band. It futuristic approach towards the system as the 5GHz band was used to encounter less interference. However, 802.11a was fairly quick too with a maximum 54Mbps data transfer. The drawback, however, is that the 5GHz frequency has more difficulty with objects that are in the signal’s path, so the range is often poor.
IEEE 802.11b: This was also created in 1999, but uses the typical 2.5GHz band, which let alone achieved a maximum speed of 11Mbps. This very version was the kick-start for Wi-Fi popularity.
IEEE 802.11g: This version was brought to life in 2003. Well, the 802.11g certainly raised the maximum data bar to 54Mbps while retaining usage of the reliable 2.4GHz band. This innumerably resulted in widespread adoption of the Wi-Fi standard.
IEEE 802.11n: Not a long after 802.11g, in 2009, the 802.11n version was brought in. The 802.11n operates on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, as well as supporting multi-channel usage, but still, this version had slow initial adoption. Each channel offers a maximum data rate of 150Mbps, which means the maximum data rate of the standard is 600Mbps, which was a huge jump from the previous version.
IEEE 802.11ac: Soon after 802.11n came into life, the 802.11ac stepped in. A standard you will find in most wireless devices. This was initially released in 2014 and potentially increases the data throughput for Wi-Fi devices up to a maximum of 1,300 megabits per second.
It additionally adds MU-MIMO support, Wi-Fi broadcast channels for the 5GHz band, and support for more antenna on a single router, apparently creating a widely popular standard which we are using now.
IEEE 802.11ax: The upcoming is the ax standard. When ax completes its rollout, it will theoretically throughput 10Gbps, which is around a 30-40 percent improvement over the ac standard, which is currently in widespread use. Not just that, the 802.11ax will increase network capacity by adding broadcast subchannels, upgrading MU-MIMO, and allowing more simultaneous data streams.
Communication Between Standards
Two devices with the same Wi-Fi standard can communicate without any restriction. Things start to rise when you try to connect two devices that use different or say incompatible standards. The initial 802.11 (legacy) standard is now out of date, while the a and b standards are nearing the end of their lifespan.
- Devices that use 802.11b, g, and n can all communicate with an 802.11ac router.
- 802.11b cannot communicate with a and b, and vice versa.
Wi-Fi Alliance Naming System
Wi-Fi 6 is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi standard naming system. As you can see, 802.11 terminologies are confusing for consumers and moreover, it lacks information to work with. Well, here’s how the naming standards correlate;
- Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax (coming in 2019)
- Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
- Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
- Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
- Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
- Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
- Legacy: 802.11 (1997)
That said, upgrading your devices to the latest Wi-Fi standard will benefit not only with the increased speed but also the additional security and other technicalities. We hope after reading this article you can now differentiate between various Wi-Fi standards easily.