WiFi was invented a little before the turn of the century, and what an enormous impact it has had! Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of the early 21st century is connectivity at our fingertips, and WiFi has played a significant role in delivering the experience.
Though WiFi is relatively easy to install and use, customers have had issues determining the relative merit of various versions. Moreover, with its convoluted system of naming, WiFi has always left befuddled users in its wake. Until now.
In October 2018, the WiFi Alliance declared that they would be simplifying the names of different versions. Instead of generally unintelligible codes, they will subsequently be using numbers. Six trumps 5, 5 trumps four and so on. Users will no longer need to attempt to decipher whether ‘ac’ is better than ‘ax’, or if ‘n’ would be the best option.
This revelation came alongside the announcement of WiFi 6, slated for release in 2019. However, before we get into the nitty-gritty details of WiFi 6, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
Technically, the very first generation of WiFi, 802.11b, has not been renamed under the new system. However, as the better versions have overtaken WiFi 1, the WiFi Alliance has overlooked chiefly it.
Vic Hayes is often referred to as the “Father of WiFi” because he established the standards which would eventually make WiFi a possibility.
WiFi 1 was released in September 1999. After that, WiFi got its big break via Apple, which incorporated a WiFi slot into its new iBook computers.
It only continued to grow and found a commercial stronghold in home networking and became the easiest way to share a single broadband link between several computers.
Originally named 802.11a, WiFi 2 was released almost immediately after its predecessor. However, it was chock-full of improvements, fixing the failures of the original.
It had a bandwidth of 54 Mbps, nearly five times that of WiFi 1. However, it also sent signals in a fairly unmonitored 2.4 GHz range of frequency and often encountered interference. WiFi 1, on the other hand, almost exclusively used the 5.8 GHz range of frequency and did not encounter signal interference.
802.11g entered the market in 2003, a good four years after its predecessors. Perhaps that time was warranted, as WiFi 3 possessed Orthodiagonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM). Essentially, the OFDM is used to increase WiFi speeds.
Users could easily switch over from WiFi 2 to WiFi 3 with a quick update of firmware. It also had a maximum bandwidth of 54 Mbps. It can operate on 14 different channels whose frequencies range between 2.412 and 2.484 GHz. However, some countries have banned certain channels.
Released a whopping six years after WiFi 3, 802.11n was developed with one motive in mind – To increase the level and speed of data transfer. However, having radically altered the working of the OFDM and introducing MIMO power saving, WiFi 4 did not fall short of accomplishing its goals.
It worked at the bands of 2.4 and 5 GHz. The maximum data range of WiFi 4 was significantly higher than the previous versions, at a value of 600 Mbps. This generation of WiFi also provided backward compatibility and worked well with previous WiFi systems.
Currently, the latest model of WiFi, 802.11ac, was released in 2014. With a theoretical speed of 1300 Mbps, it works in the 5 GHz band of frequencies. In addition, it is now able to support a larger number of simultaneous transmissions due to an increased number of MIMO radios and antennae.
One of WiFi 5’s most well-received features was beamforming. Beamforming involves the detection of connected devices to increase the signal strength in that direction. So instead of throwing out wireless signals in all directions, the router sends an extra-strong beam in the user’s direction.
WiFi 5 has perfect backward compatibility. Double wide signal channels (i.e. 160 MHz instead of 80 MHz) are a listed optional feature. However, many users did not practically find this version significantly better than WiFi 4 and chose not to upgrade their systems.
The latest brainchild of the WiFi Alliance, 802.11ax or WiFi 6, is scheduled for release in 2019. It will not require the use of extra wireless antennae. It will work in the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands. It may theoretically deliver up to 11 Gbps speeds across three devices. This implies the speed of your WiFi may increase by four to ten times.
WiFi 6 has been noted to have improved efficiency. Though it is not entirely clear yet, people speculate that this means less draw on your gadget battery, or maybe lower figures on your electricity bill. Furthermore, these changes may lead to better connectivity in public places. However, connectivity in crowded areas also depends on a host of other factors.
WiFi 6 will be backwards compatible with all previous versions. So if any new gadget you buy supports this standard, it will work just fine. However, you can experience faster speeds and all of WiFi 6’s advantages only when everything, including your router, is WiFi 6-enabled.
Not much else is known about the newest generation of WiFi. Needless to say, most people are eagerly awaiting the latest launch of this trailblazing technology. So here’s hoping that WiFi 6 is a good one.
Akshaya is a voracious reader, and a bit of a know-it-all. She is usually found with a book in hand and considers herself a connoisseur of all things nerdy.