Wi-Fi 7, 6, 5, 4 ... Generations of Wifi and Their Meanings

Why do some say "Wi-Fi 6" and others "802.11ax"? What is "Wi-Fi 4"? We give you a quick overview of wifi generations thus far.

In 2018 the industry association WiFi Alliance introduced new designations to be used for wifi products to signal capabilities.

It might be worth pointing out that the wifi standards themselves have not changed their names. The committee that develops Wi-Fi standards is still called IEEE 802.11, and the standards they provide continue to have catchy, but precise names like "802.11ax".

WiFi Alliance does not control these standards, only their own product certification programs. By introducing generational names for wifi, they wanted to give more user friendly designations to the products that support these standards. Products that support 802.11ax are called Wi-Fi 6, which is thus considered to be the sixth generation of wifi.

Graphics from WiFi Alliance with examples of how the wifi generations may be represented visually when connected to a wireless network.

Generational names and standard names are now used interchangeably, and it is still not wrong to say "ax" or "ac" about what is supported by a product, although it is increasingly common to mostly refer to generations.

The idea is also that new products should now be able to actively show the user what version of wifi technology is available when connecting to a wireless access point. You'll not only get a wifi signal on the task bar of your phone or PC, but also a number that indicates the maximum performance and functionality you can expect from the connection.

Generation / Technology StandardFrequency band(s)Note
Wi-Fi 7 / 802.11be6 GHz
5 GHz
2.4 GHz
Still in development as of October 2023.
The standard is not done, and the certification program has not started.
Wi-Fi 6E / 802.11ax6 GHz
5 GHz
2.4 GHz

Introduced with Wi-Fi 6, refers exclusively to products that also support the 6 GHz frequency band. Learn more here: Wi-Fi 6E: 6 GHz Internet

Wi-Fi 6 / 802.11ax 5 GHz and 2.4 GHzCurrently the latest standard in common usage. Wi-Fi Alliance started product certification of Wi-Fi 6 in September 2019, the final standard was approved in May 2021. Learn more in Wi-Fi 6: What can we expect from 802.11 ax
Wi-Fi 5 / 802.11ac5 GHzThis designation does not distinguish between the first ax products and the latest round that includes newer technologies, known as Wave 2.
Wi-Fi 4 / 802.11n5 GHz and 2.4 GHz

Links

WiFi Alliance about Wi-Fi 6: https://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wi-fi-certified-6

Article by Jorunn Danielsen

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