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The Wi-Fi Alliance today announced a significant rebranding of the “802.11” Wi-Fi standards that have long served as a source of potential confusion for users: Going forward, the current 802.11ac standard will be known as Wi-Fi 5, while its successor 802.11ax will be known as Wi-Fi 6, establishing a generational terminology that — like Bluetooth 3, 4, and 5 — will be easier for customers to remember and understand.

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

Today’s announcement is significant not just because of its impact on currently popular Wi-Fi standards, but also on one that’s been on the fringe: 802.11ad. Also known as WiGig, 802.11ad notably depends on an extra, 60GHz millimeter wave wireless antenna to boost speeds of compatible devices in the same room as the router. A handful of routers and devices, including wireless VR adapters, have adopted 802.11ad over the past year or two.

But the announcement makes clear that the Wi-Fi Alliance sees 802.11ax, not 802.11ad, as the next stage of Wi-Fi’s evolution. 802.11ax has no need for the extra antenna, instead making more efficient use of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands already used by 802.11ac — err, Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6 promises up to 11 Gbps speeds across three or more devices, with a single Wi-Fi 6 device achieving up to 5 Gbps.

In a statement to VentureBeat, the Alliance explained how Wi-Fi 6 and WiGig will coexist:

“Wi-Fi 6 and WiGig, based on 802.11ad and eventually 802.11ay, will continue to evolve in parallel and remain strong complements to one another within the Wi-Fi portfolio of technologies. We fully expect some products to integrate Wi-Fi 6 and WiGig, which will remain a distinct brand to indicate products that support 60 GHz Wi-Fi for multi-gigabit, low-latency connectivity.”

The Alliance says that Wi-Fi 4 will be used to identify devices with 802.11n technology. Although there were earlier 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g standards, the Alliance told VentureBeat that it will not retroactively use Wi-Fi 1 to 3 to identify generations that have mostly, but not entirely, faded into the background.

Early routers supporting Wi-Fi 6 have been expected this year, and as discussed in a prior article, the first examples from D-Link and Asus look like monstrous spiders. The Wi-Fi Alliance says that its certification program for the new standard will be coming in 2019.


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