Author(s): Raghu Gopal
The Wi-Fi Alliance is the promoter group for wireless local area network technologies developed by IEEE. It supports the roll-out and wide adoption of 802.11 specifications through certification and marketing programmes. The organisation's logo is well known, shown on boxes of products that have been tested to be interoperable with other certified equipment. Having the alliance's stamp of approval offers a level of assurance to customers buying devices that support Wi-Fi.
However, tech jargon used to name successive versions of the specifications has created uncertainty for consumers. During the past few years, there have been updates and alterations to IEEE's standards, called 802.11ah, 802.11ai, 802.11aj and 802.11aq. Until now, the Wi-Fi Alliance hasn't been involved in the naming of the technology.
This week, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced a consumer-friendly nomenclature for Wi-Fi versions. It announced that the next iteration of Wi-Fi, 802.11ax, will be known as Wi-Fi 6 and that certification will come in 2019. The new naming system will also be applied to the previous two generations; "Wi-Fi 5" will be used for devices compatible with 802.11ac and "Wi-Fi 4" will be the label for 802.11n devices. It's a refreshing decision that raises the question of why this hasn't been done before.
But an unfriendly naming pattern hasn't prevented Wi-Fi from becoming one of the greatest success stories in technology. There are tens of thousands of devices that meet the Wi-Fi Alliance's certification programmes, and billions of devices in use globally. But there's always competition.
Other access technologies overlap with the talents of Wi-Fi including LTE-Unlicensed and its variants, which use the same frequency bands as Wi-Fi. Furthermore, 5G networks also borrow some radio techniques from Wi-Fi such as beam-forming. We note that although the cellular industry has to deal with a string of specification releases by 3GPP, all the marketing to consumers is done on major generations of the technology's evolution.
Wi-Fi certainly isn't under an immediate threat. It's an extremely well-entrenched and prized technology. However, with its new naming scheme, the Wi-Fi Alliance is thinking ahead.