In a bid to simplify the naming of the current and future Wi-Fi standards and ensure that even unexperienced users buy the right equipment, Wi-Fi Alliance on Wednesday introduced a new naming approach for the Wi-Fi brand. From now on, major Wi-Fi standards will be publicly labeled by numbers instead of letters.

Nowadays PCs, smartphones, networking equipment, and other products that are equipped with a Wi-Fi controller are labeled using the name of the relevant IEEE standard; e.g. 802.11n, 802.11ac, or 802.11ax-compliant. While such naming scheme is accurate and convenient enough for experienced users, casual buyers do not always understand it, especially as standards have moved into two-letter suffixes. Which in turn has meant that buyers don't always grab the right combination of devices that provides the best performance (e.g., get a new PC with an 802.11ac card and an outdated 802.11n router). In a bid to simplify things going forward, the Wi-Fi Alliance and its members will use generation names instead of letters. As a result, the 802.11ax will be called Wi-Fi 6.

Wi-Fi Names and Performance
Naming Peak Performance
New Name IEEE
Wi-Fi 4 802.11n 150 Mbps 300 Mbps 450 Mbps
Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac 433 Mbps over 80MHz

867 Mbs over 160MHz
867 Mbps over 80MHz

1.69 Gbps over 160MHz
1.27 Gbps over 80 MHz

2.54 Gbps over 160 MHz
Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax 867 Mbs over 160MHz

1.69 Gbps over 160MHz

on network
2.54 Gbps over 160 MHz


While the new naming approach will undoubtedly improve clarity when it comes to major Wi-Fi releases and help end users to select the right set of equipment, it's worth noting that the new system doesn't try to distill every aspect of a Wi-Fi device's capabilities and configuration down to a single number. For example, the key advantage of the 802.11ax spec is not its peak AP-to-device bandwidth, but rather its peak overall “capacity” that will improve performance when working with both 802.11ax and 802.11ac devices. Furthermore, the performance of 802.11ac and 802.11ax devices depend on the number of channels they use and the number of spatial streams within those channels, so the simplified Wi-Fi names do not give a complete description of what devices are capable of.

Despite some uncertainties, simplification of Wi-Fi naming seems like a good move by Wi-Fi Alliance since it at least attempts to give casual users an overall understanding of general wireless networking capabilities.

Related Reading:

Source: Wi-Fi Alliance

Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, October 3, 2018 - link

    Officially, no. However they started with Wi-Fi 4 at 802.11n for a reason.
  • MrCommunistGen - Wednesday, October 3, 2018 - link

    I'd have to say that overall I'm a fan of this.

    That said it still won't help tear away some of the confusion with some (what is now) "Wi-Fi 4" tech.

    So many cheap laptops shipped with single stream "Wireless N" Wi-Fi that was 1x1:1, so the max link rate was a pathetic 72Mbps.

    Unless you're doing some really high end stuff (large file transfers, 4K video streaming, or a ton of clients), the difference between a Wi-Fi 4 3x3 450Mbps connection and a Wi-Fi 5/6 3x3 is probably negligible.

    Whereas a 72Mbps vs 300Mbps link rate is going to have some significant real-world usability differences - yet both are bundled up under the same standard: "Wi-Fi 4".

    There's probably no good solution to making all of these things consumer friendly yet convey all the relevant information. Going forward, (I'll be optimistic) hardware vendors won't be putting out too many wireless solutions that "check the box" for "yup it has Wi-Fi" but perform so badly - so I don't see this being a problem as old "Wi-Fi 4" client and infrastructure gear starts getting phased out.
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, October 4, 2018 - link

    Yup, I've got one of those single stream N laptops that tops out at 72Mbps. HP skimped on the second antenna when they built the first generation Stream 11. It gets the job done, but a second antenna like the later generation laptops are equipped with would be useful. I might buy and add one myself since the system is very far out of warranty and easy to take apart.

    Anyway, though the new standard is a good change, it doesn't take into account the many ways that OEMs will cut corners to save small amounts of money on a per unit basis.
  • nicolaim - Wednesday, October 3, 2018 - link

    What about 802.11ad?

    The last line of the table is missing something.
  • valinor89 - Thursday, October 4, 2018 - link

    Seems like ad would not really be what most people believe that WIFI should be and more like a shupercharged bluethooth, as it has very little range beyound a single room.
    Also, not directly backwards compatible with preceeding WIFI modes.
  • valinor89 - Thursday, October 4, 2018 - link

    Never mind, seems that backwards support is included in the standard.
  • tmnvnbl - Thursday, October 4, 2018 - link

    Indeed, this makes versions such as ad really hard to name. Wifi ad is not directly your home network as n or ac is. ad is 60GHz for physically close appliciations, like wireless laptop docking etc. It is newer and more advanced than Wifi 5, but it is not a replacement for it, more like an extension? Maybe you could call it wifi 5 service pack 1?
    I don't know. Maybe this naming scheme is better, but the best will always be to just know what you are buying instead of relying on numbers.
  • valinor89 - Thursday, October 4, 2018 - link

    Much better than the a, b, g, n, ac, ax progression. Will look nice besides 5g, Bluethooth 5, etc on the spec sheetsand make comparisons easier as long as they keep equating a bigger number with more speed/better.
  • FreckledTrout - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    LOl and 6 is bigger than 5 so must be faster which in this case works out with Wifi 6 vs 5g.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now