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Friday, October 05, 2018

Alliance dumbs down Wi-Fi names

By Nick Flaherty

The WiFi Alliance is changing the way WiFi is labelled to make it less confusing for consumers and it says to enable users to easily differentiate between technologies.

While the move to Wi-Fi 6 as the name for 802.11ax will help the upgrade cycle, it risks minimising the impact of other technologies that embedded engineers rely on.

This is vitally important, as the Alliance points out that Wi-Fi carries more than half of the internet’s traffic in an ever-expanding variety of applications that billions of people rely on every day.

The generational terminology may also be used to designate previous Wi-Fi generations, such as 802.11n or 802.11ac, but doesn't necessarily take into account variations on the standard such as 11ad and the emerging 802.11ay for example, With 5G cellular moving to protocols that operate across a wider range of frequencies, Wi-Fi is already doing the same. Wi-Fi that operates in the millimetre band is very different from Wi-Fi 6 at 2.4GHz and 5GHz and potentially different again from Wi-Fi 6 at 7GHz.

The new naming system identifies Wi-Fi generations by a numerical sequence and can be used by product vendors to identify the latest Wi-Fi technology a device supports, by OS vendors to identify the generation of Wi-Fi connection between a device and network, and by service providers to identify the capabilities of a Wi-Fi network to their customers: 

Wi-Fi 6 to identify devices that support 802.11ax technology
Wi-Fi 5 to identify devices that support 802.11ac technology
Wi-Fi 4 to identify devices that support 802.11n technology

“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. “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.”

This is a natural consequence of running out of letters at 802.11az. So almost certainly we will see more brand diversification with Wi-Fi 7 Max or Plus and we are effectively back to the days of Wi-Fi vs W-Gig.

In addition to describing the capabilities of the device, device manufacturers or OS vendors can incorporate the generational terminology in User Interface (UI) visuals to indicate the current type of Wi-Fi connection. The UI visual will adjust as a device moves between Wi-Fi networks so users have real-time awareness of their device connection. Certification programs based on major IEEE 802.11 releases will use a generational Wi-Fi name; Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification is coming in 2019.

Since 2000, the Alliance has completed more than 40,000 certifications to demonstrate interoperability, backward compatibility and the highest industry-standard security protection.

Naturally there's plenty of industry support for Wi-Fi 6 from consumer-facing organisations.

“Aerohive enthusiastically supports Wi-Fi Alliance’s new consumer-friendly Wi-Fi 6 naming convention in support of the emergence of IEEE’s new 802.11ax technology. Wi-Fi Alliance is now providing consumers the same type of generational Wi-Fi naming conventions to match what cellular technology has done since the beginning. Wi-Fi technology has evolved and improved over the last 21 years – from only a few megabits to several Gigabit speeds – yet this information is currently not provided. With Wi-Fi 6, consumers can easily identify the level of Wi-Fi provided and demand superior services. Additionally, we look forward to Wi-Fi Alliance’s launch of their Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification program next year, and will submit our latest generation of Aerohive devices for certification at the first opportunity.” said Perry Correll, product management director, Aerohive Networks

“Wi-Fi has evolved significantly since Aruba was founded 16 years ago – from its initial role as a secondary network within the enterprise enabling mobility to the mission-critical role it plays today as the primary connectivity method for billions of devices, users, and things. We applaud this effort by Wi-Fi Alliance to simplify the terminology used to differentiate between the different generations of technologies as it will help users more quickly and easily discern the technology their particular device or network supports,” added Lissa Hollinger, Vice President of Portfolio Marketing for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

But there's also support from the IP and chip companies. 

“Consumers love Wi-Fi – nearly every Internet connected device has it and over 80% of all wireless traffic goes over it. The sixth generation of Wi-Fi - 802.11ax - is the most advanced ever, bringing faster speeds, greater capacity and coverage, and will make the user experience even more enjoyable. This simple, generational representation will let consumers differentiate phones and wireless routers based on their Wi-Fi capabilities, helping them pick the device that suits their needs best. When they see that their device contains Wi-Fi 6, they will know that they have the best wireless connectivity on the market,” said Vijay Nagarajan, senior director of marketing for Wireless Communications and Connectivity at chip designer Broadcom
“CEVA welcomes the introduction of the clear terminology. We have been licensing MAC and Modem IP for many years and across many generations of the technology spanning 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax. The new naming structure gives a simple and consistent framework to boost user awareness, which is especially important now at the dawn of Wi-Fi 6,” said Aviv Malinovitch, GM of the Connectivity BU at IP supplier CEVA.

Similarly Intel and Marvell have supported the move, although both keep referencing 802.11ax alongside Wi-Fi 6, highlighting the need for engineers to keep using the IEEE 802.11 names to be truly informed.

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