back to article Wi-Fi Alliance ditches 802.11 spec codes for consumer-friendly naming scheme

Wi-Fi, known for about two decades by its wonky Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers designation, IEEE 802.11, has adopted a new consumer-oriented naming scheme. The latest version of the specification, 802.11ax, has been renamed Wi-Fi 6 by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Austin, Texas-based trade association responsible …

  1. Insane Reindeer
    FAIL

    If it is not broken...

    Then do not fix it! Do not even attempt to fix it! What an utterly pointless exercise.

    1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: If it is not broken...

      What an utterly pointless exercise.

      Depends on which side of the fence you're talking to.

      For marketing folks, this is a stroke of genius. Think about it: <PRODUCT NAME> can support 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, WiFi 1, WiFi 2, WiFi 3, WiFi 4 & WiFi 5.

      Wow. Put that in a box and you're gold!

      1. kathyzjim

        Re: If it is not broken...

        WiFi 1 through 6, is no different. Just another naming convention.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: If it is not broken...

      Exactly.

      We should have stuck with the original naming scheme.

      802.11 a, b, ...

      Like all naming scheme, it started out well, then ended up in a mess of non-intuitive junk (g, n... is ac better or worse than a?), then has logic re-applied to it when people realise that it's just stupid.

      CONSECUTIVE INTEGERS, or letters if you prefer. Minor versions being near-consecutive decimal upgrades to the existing version (i.e. either consecutive 10ths or 100ths depending on the "size" of the update... 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, or 3.3.1 being a minor update to 3.3).

      Any other version naming scheme is a nonsense - excluding minor versions (e.g. 98SE, etc.), and often cycles back to common sense.

      Windows: 1, 2, 3, 95, 98, NT/2000, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10...

      Office: 1, 2, 3, 4, 95, 97, 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019... (not even including some Mac, etc. versions!)

      Linux: 1, 2, 3, 4.

      There's no need for it. Even 2G/3G/4G recognises this. Nobody cares about LTE, HSDPA etc. they just want to know if it's one of the "new lot" or not. 4G > 3G > 2G > "G".

      Anything else is literally marketing gumph designed to mislead, confuse and obsolete. It's even mocked - no movie sequel is ever anything more than "Movie 2", "Movie 3", unless it's literally taking the piss: Naked Gun 33 1/3rd.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: If it is not broken...

        That was the final insult.

        Mine's the one with the beaver in the pocket.

      2. Named coward

        Re: If it is not broken...

        We did stick to the original scheme...a, b, c...z, aa, ab, ac

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: If it is not broken...

          We did stick to the original scheme...a, b, c...z, aa, ab, ac

          Well, sort of. When you consider that 'ay' is the follow on to 'ad' and 'af' is just 'ac' but in the "white space" TV spectrum and - well it's all a bit shite really because this isn't exactly translatable to WiFi 7.389056... or as it's more commonly known, WiFi e2.

      3. TRT Silver badge

        Re: If it is not broken...

        Mac OS X Mojave and El Capitan and Yosemite and Leopard and Jaguar and Lion and Tiger and Bears. Oh my.

      4. Tom 35 Silver badge

        Re: If it is not broken...

        How long until we have WiFi 7.5bi?

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: If it is not broken...

          More to the point, how long until I can get WiFi 69 ?

    3. Mage Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: If it is not broken...

      Indeed, because client devices and routers may only implement some parts of various WiFi specs: WPA2 vs earlier encryption (Nintendo DS?), only 2.4GHz Band, partial or no MIMO etc.

      Many router aspects are pointless if the existing clients don't implement them.

      Some aspects can be updated by software, others such as other bands, MIMO and OFDM vs OFDMA etc need new hardware. Many clients, esp IoT and gadgets never get SW upgrades for things they could do. Also some modes use an entire band. MIMO claims and specs are frequently misleading.

      *NEW Router or Airpoint or Repeater purchase* It's a nightmare establishing what the compatibility is with existing gadgets, phones, tablets, laptops and nearby WiFi points. What if the superfast mode uses an entire band and massively degrades an existing WiFi for visitors or some other purpose?

      This change is just dumb. Useless because it will tell you less on the box. The Marketing people will just want to put "WiFi 7" ready on the box.

  2. Lt.Kije

    About time

    A change that is long overdue.

  3. Registered Register Registrant

    And WPA3?

    Glad to know we'll soon be calling something common something else. Thanks, El Reg, for eliminating the potential confusion.

    But I'm interested neither in faster speeds nor efficient networking. I want to know if it can use WPA3.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: And WPA3?

      Yes, without it hackers can er choose their WEPon

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think I'll wait for Wi-Fi X.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Is that the Apple only version ?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        No, that's iWi-Fi

  5. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Actually , no.

    For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions...

    No, for two decades people bought whatever router met their budget needs, ignoring specs, and assuming it would just work. And usually it did.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Actually , no.

      Indeed, and in the rare instances where I talk about WiFi with what the article names "common people", I just say WiFi, because that's all that is needed in the conversation.

      But hey, change the name by all means. When it doesn't matter, I don't care.

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Actually , no.

      Apart from in the last decade or so, people actually haven't given a shit. They just use whatever router their ISP sent them and don't get into the technical bits.

    3. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: Actually , no.

      Or what ever the cable/phone company give them for 'free' with their internet.

  6. MrBlack

    1024-QAM in the current 2.4/5 Ghz bands ? Where are people hoping to have this low level of RF noise to achieve this, in Alaska ? ISI is a bitch.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      In most cases I *never* see anything like the peak speed the standard is capable of as it is always negotiated down to match the congestion of a dozen or so access points in my block of flats. Add to that for most folk (certainly in this septic isle) will not see much more than 50Mbit/sec to the outside world its a bit pointless*.

      [*] yes I know folk here will have home NAS and want to stream video or run backups, etc, where they would saturate a gigabit link but that is not Joe Public.

  7. defiler Silver badge

    11Gb/sec

    Does that mean we can look forward to cheap uplinks of >10Gb/sec soon? Even 10 is pricey enough, but anything above that is currently eye-watering.

    (Flooded my house with Cat6A and crammed some OM4 between strategic points during renovations, and currently driving it at 1Gb...)

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: 11Gb/sec

      >>>Flooded...Cat6A and crammed some OM4<<< Planning to stay a while then? :)

      I put Cat5 throughout while renovating in 2000, longest run to comms cupboard is 20m and works well at 1gig. SWMBO thought the cable count was mad. (TBH in 2000 it was! but the 'internet4everything' future was obviously only waiting for bandwidth to appear)

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Re: 11Gb/sec

        SWMBO thought the cable count was mad.

        That's how it works. I did some moderate cabling in the old house which was useful because WiFi was 11Mb/sec. Then there's been a race between cheap wired and wireless. Every now and then I think I could get away with wireless, and then I hit something that could really use the extra bandwidth.

        So when we were tearing the house apart I just went for it. Even the spark was astonished by the amount of cable that went in. :D

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: 11Gb/sec

      AFAIK to get the higher speeds you need devices with multiple antennas - while it's simple enough to put them on AP, it's far more difficult to put them into devices, especially hand-held ones. None of my devices can use the full ac speed of my APs.

      What is good is that each subchannel should be faster, so more devices can be used at the same time without degrading performances too much, especially if they're doing sustained data transfers.

      As long as I can, I prefer a cable for static devices.

    3. DarrDarr

      Re: 11Gb/sec

      To get greater than 10Gb/s requires using 160MHz-wide channels, which precludes 2.4GHz, since its bandwidth is only 60MHz wide using all 3 non-overlapping channels (1, 6 and 11).

      Actually, to get greater than 3Gb/s requires using 160MHz-wide channels, depending on what technology your WiFi device supports.

  8. Thoguht Silver badge

    Good move (perhaps)

    At long last, broadband suppliers with own-brand routers won't be able to bamboozle potential customers with meaningless (to most people) strings of numbers and letters. If company A offers Wi-Fi 6 but company B only offers Wi-Fi 5, you know at a glance which one is faster.

    Except that if A's router's implementation of Wi-Fi 6 is crap you might still get better throughput with B's Wi-Fi 5. And then there's the question of do you really need that bandwidth when the speed of your copper/fibre is often the limiting factor? Plus, on top of all that, you might not actually have any kit that supports Wi-Fi 6 (or even 5). Still, this is probably a good move by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

  9. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Another reference to remember.

    The new naming starts only at WiFi 4 (.n), fair enough the .11g & older is getting on a bit now.

    But...

    How long will it take before we're told by a punter that their old wifi supports wifi 11 already !

    And how many punters know the default config on most boxes will drop to the lowest common standard. (usually .g for the old Wii mum still uses)

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Another reference to remember.

      I do have punters who are getting confused between 802.1 and 802.11

      Mind you, I don't help... "Have you tried checking the 802.1x supplicant setting on the 802.11ac device?"

    2. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: Another reference to remember.

      Will they do a microsoft and skip from 10 to 12?

  10. Spazturtle Silver badge

    'Wi-Fi Alliance' is a marketing company that has no official involvement in the spec.

    802.11 is the IEEE name for the specification, the 'Wi-Fi Alliance' is an unrelated marketing organisation. The Wi-Fi Alliance have always given their own marketing names to IEEE 802.11 specifications that they charge people to use. This is why cheap routers don't say 'Wi-Fi' they say 'Wireless'.

  11. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Happy

    Brief memory ...

    RS-232 (C)

    Even Spitting Image did a song about it ....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brief memory ...

      Spitting Image - RS232 (c)

      >>Obligatory YouTube quote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDlj0jBtYmQ

      Go on, you know you want to smile.....

  12. EnviableOne Bronze badge

    where does 6 come from?

    0-802.11

    1-802.11b

    2-802.11a

    3-802.11g

    4-802.11n (wave1)

    4.5-802.11n (wave2)

    5-802.11ac (wave1)

    5.5-802.11ac (wave2)

    6-802.11ax

    what about WiGig(802.11ad) or Super Wi-Fi(802.11af) or dot11 ah or aj

  13. DougS Silver badge

    I hope they don't let manufacturers "spice up" the names

    I don't want to see Netgear advertising "Wifi 6 turbo" or Dlink with "Wifi 6+" as it would lead to more confusion, not less.

    Look at what happened with 3G/4G and inevitably 5G. Not that those were "official" standard names, but 3G was whatever you decided to call 3G. We all remember when AT&T decided HSPA+ was "4G" because Verizon was getting LTE out the door a few months before they were and they wanted to claim they were first with 4G. I expect the same games to be played with 5G, with companies implementing LTE-A cat 20 and calling it 5G because it is fast (despite not having the one real advantage of 5G, the reduced latency)

    At least with 802.11ac you didn't see companies pulling that, they just advertised on meaningless speeds, as if it matters to anyone if their router is capable of 3100 Mbps vs 5300 Mbps. I hope we will see routers that do 802.11ax and WPA3 with just 2 or 3 antennas. They won't have the headline speed, so hopefully wouldn't have the headline price. The one true advantage of 802.11ax is the OFDMA - and even that only matters if you have a LOT of device contention. What I really is WPA3, but I have a suspicion it won't be possible to upgrade existing routers (because why should manufacturers want that) so we'll probably be forced to buy Wifi 6 routers to get it.

    1. vir

      Re: I hope they don't let manufacturers "spice up" the names

      Oh, they'll do it. A new naming convention that has essentially no relation to a technical standard? Brace for "Wi-Fi 6+", "Wi-Fi 6 MAX", and the inevitable "Wi-Fi 8-ready", "Wi-Fi 8-compatible", etc.

      Reminds me of the time an over-zealous marketing writer decided to "bump up" the spec on one of our products from IP66 to IP67 and I had to explain that no, that doesn't mean that it's 1.5% more weather resistant.

  14. steelpillow Silver badge
    WTF?

    New, good - Retrospective, bad

    I'm all for a more easily-undersood system that helps us spot this year's model from last.

    But retrospective re-designation is stupid: if I check my current device spec sheet and it is some 802.blah number, how can I relate that to "Wfi 5 or 6?" or, "is "WiFi 4 too risky to keep any more?" type information?

  15. P.B. Lecavalier
    Trollface

    Let's Cook!

    Your brain on Wifi 6:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FtNm9CgA6U

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: Let's Cook!

      I always had lots of questions that nobody would ever answer. Can I get that with bacon? How about a bit of toast with jam on the side? Are coffee refills free? etc.

  16. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Actually seems to make things more complicated

    I mean the most important information is wether the device supports 5 GHz or WPA3. Signaling speed enhancements are important, but not as important as the band it's working on or how it authenticates, as those essentially determine if your device is usable at all or just a paperweight given your situation.

    1. expreg

      Re: Actually seems to make things more complicated

      That information is part of what makes something Wi-Fi Certified. You'll be able to associate "Wi-Fi 6" with a set list of supported features. If it's not Wi-Fi Certified, it cannot (I mean, people will do it anyway) be labeled with their logo or naming scheme.

  17. onefang Silver badge
    Coat

    802.11ax got axed, now WiFi is sixy.

  18. John 104

    "This noob-friendly generational naming convention is being applied retroactively, so no longer will you refer to 802.11ac or 802.11n. Instead, say Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4 when conversing with members of the general public."

    Well, that should clear things up for this new generation of Reg readers.

  19. philnc

    Stupid

    This is so stupid I'm going to break my own rule and not post anonymously here (who could possibly object to my opinion here?).

    Because simplistic, snappy, brand names have always advanced the use and enjoyment of technology.

    Anyone interested in a copy of Windows 98?

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Stupid

      Anyone interested in a copy of Windows 98?

      Is that like Windows ME? Or is ME a medical condition?

  20. expreg

    I'm sure El Reggians know, but I need this off my chest.

    Nothing is being "ditched." The Wi-Fi Alliance is just using another naming scheme for their certification program. 802.11whatever is still around, and will continue to be as new docs are ratified by the IEEE. People referring to the specific technology will still use the standard names.

    To be honest, most consumers just saw something like AC500 anyway, so I'm not sure it was really needed.

  21. ~chrisw

    I'm conflicted on this

    I understand the 802.11 designations perfectly, they're succint and useful.

    I recently attempted to explain the distinction to both my mum and a neighbour - strangely enough, both times while setting up their new wireless routers (broadcasting both 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs) and doing the usual rain dance pairing devices.

    Despite explaining using VERY high level technophobe language half a dozen times - each time with genuinely easy to understand, increasingly simple analogies - they just couldn't wrap their heads around it. In the kindest possible way, it felt like I'd just tried to explain chess basics to a toddler.

    To most non-technical people, Wi-Fi is just a wibbly thing which usually runs well, sometimes runs slow, but is A Thing Which Basically Works. If it's easier to explain to my mum why her router now advertises a Wi-Fi 5 and a Wi-Fi 6 hotspot, while her old tablet can only see the v5 wibble, that's fine, I get to the pub quicker.

    If I can toggle marketingspeak for descriptive labels (a/b/g/n/ac/ax) on my devices, I'm OK with this. I'd rather devices be able to display estimated mbit/sec throughput - or even just dBM - with a simple toggle, instead of arse about with third-party apps.

  22. pavel.petrman

    Renaming the Internet?

    For many a lay(wo)man WiFi = internets*. "I'm not getting good internet in the bathroom", "The internet is four of five but Facebook still takes ages to load!" and such is what I hear regularly even from highly educated people. Thanks to WiFi consortium I will now be asked if this or that router supports the newest internet, whether "internet 5" is enough to get good reception in the far corner of a flat I've never seen etc.

    *Yes, as every "it guy for the whole family" knows, the "internet" is quite another thing from the actual Internet.

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