Electrical Engineers are not so good at creating names for wireless technologies. If you ever need to discuss your home networking setup to a guest, which probably rarely happens, would you ever use the term IEEE 802.11ac to describe your current wireless capabilities?
I wouldn’t either.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to say, “I have ‘Wi-Fi 5” or “I have Wi-Fi 6” to explain the progression of wireless technology versions?
It sure would.
IEEE stands for The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the professional association that produces over 30 percent of the world’s literature in the electronics engineering and computer science fields. 802.11 is the set of media access controls (MAC) specifications for implementing a wireless local area network (WLAN). And “ac” is the wireless version that builds upon “n” technology adding wider channels in the 5GHz band and more spatial streams.
All of these segments are going to be packaged into a more recognizable name “Wi-Fi 4, 5, or 6” by the Wi-Fi Alliance Trade group. Instead of saying IEEE 802.11n, you can just say “Wi-Fi 4”. For 802.11ac (the most widely used today), just say “Wi-Fi 5”
But how does this practically apply to my life?
Well, it doesn’t really. The nomenclature of wireless progression is simply changing to make it more understandable, however, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) is nearly 4 times faster across the board with higher data throughput, can connect 4 times the number of devices on a wireless network, and offers improved coverage so you can spread your devices out even further.
Pictured above is a great illustration on ranges wireless information can be transmitted in the home. Usually, the higher the wavelength frequency is (up to 60GHz), the shorter the wavelength, making the data absorption rate (speed) is much higher. The only downside is that the range is extremely small, and the transmitted data is easily interfered by a simple door or a person passing by. This makes the 802.11ad technology pictured above between the tablet and the TV nearly useless in practical application because it’s too easily impacted by normal home structures. This is why radio and television waves (very low frequency) can travel huge distances, while short wavelengths (802.11ad – 60GHz) are impacted by interfering materials.
This sounds great, right? Should you rush out and purchase these newly capable routers? Absolutely not. These routers are practically unavailable right now because the technology is so new and it won’t be widely implemented until we are well into 2019. Early adoption of new technology from the consumers’ perspective is always going to be risky due to compatibility issues, bugs, and firmware updates. Furthermore, the endpoint device that is connecting to the network also has to be Wi-Fi 6 certified to be able to communicate with the network and utilize all of the technology advantages. The best practice is to wait until the product has been well established in the market and make sure your entire network is compatible with the newest form of Wi-Fi. There is no point upgrading one component, when the network will be bottle-necked by its weakest link.