Wi-Fi is About to Get a Lot Easier to Understand

October 3, 2018, 3:33 PM UTC

Wi-Fi started pretty simple: The internet was beamed into the air, like Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and our laptops and mobile devices grabbed it and put us online. But as manufacturers found ways to speed up those connections, the naming became confusing.

802.11n. 802.11ac. 802.11ax. Which should you choose when buying a router? Now the Wi-Fi Alliance trade group is ditching the alphabet soup for a much clearer naming structure.

The group is encouraging router manufacturers to use the names Wi-Fi 4 (currently called 802.11n), Wi-Fi 5 ( now known as 802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 6 (aka 802.11ax, a faster variety that won’t be on the market until next year), so people can more easily grasp if they’re getting the most recent technology. While the name switches aren’t mandatory, the trade group expects most companies will comply.

Earlier Wi-Fi standards (802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g) aren’t being relabeled, since those devices are rarely used these days.

“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 Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance in a statement. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to … present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

News of the renaming comes just a few months after the launch of the first major security update for Wi-Fi in 14 years.