Wireless Standards for Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things

Which Wi-Fi standards should you look for, which ones are too old and which are new? Here's an overview of the most important wireless standards for Wi-Fi and IoT.

Wi-Fi Standards

The standards for wireless communication commonly referred to as "Wi-Fi" are developed and maintained by IEEE 802, a group governed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Therefore, the standards are referred to as 802.11, using letters after the number as versioning.

Wi-Fi is essentially a brand name that denotes all products based on these standards.

From 2018, Wi-Fi Alliance has begun to introduce new names to the public Wi-Fi standards to make the differences easier to understand for users. "Wi-Fi 4" should be understood as fourth generation Wi-Fi while "Wi-Fi 6" is sixth generation The higher the number, the newer the technology and higher possible speeds.

StandardAlso known asDescription
802.11axWi-Fi 6Finally ratified and published by the standards body IEEE in May 2021. Certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance from September 2019, and the very first products hit the markets late in 2018.
Also called "High efficiency wireless", the goal has been to quadruple throughput compared to 802.11ac.
Read more about what we expect from 802.11ax
802.11ahDesigned for slower speeds, longer distances, lower power consumption and IoT devices.
802.11adIn use from 2016.
Uses the 60 GHz band and is intended to replace cables between the TV, decoders, projectors and so on – aiming for high speeds over short distances.
Theoretical top speed: approx. 7 Gbps
See also: Experts respond: New wireless standard--what can we expect from 802.11ad?
802.11acWi-Fi 5In use from 2014. Focus on increased speed.
Theoretical top speed: 6.9 Gbps.
The standard is backwards compatible with 802.11n
See also: 802.11ac Wave 2: What's New?
802.11n or anWi-Fi 4In use from 2009
Top speed: 600 Mbps
Introduced MIMO, Multiple Input Multiple Output data, where multiple antennas are used to streamline communication between transmitter and receiver without requiring higher bandwidth or more transmit capacity.
802.11gIn use from 2003
Top speed: 54 Mbps
802.11a and 802.11bIn use from 1999
Top speeds:
802.11a: 54 Mbps
802.11b: 11mbps

You can read more about Wi-Fi standards and how Wi-Fi has evolved here:

Other Wireless Standards

These wireless data transfer standards are used over short distances.

BluetoothInvented in 1994, now maintained by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Typically used for wireless synchronization and transmission between personal computer equipment and mobile phones.
See also: 10 things that interfere with and block Wi-Fi signals
ZigBeeOften used for "Internet of Things" devices such as light switches and other systems and functions that do not require a particularly high transmission capacity.
Z-WaveOften used for "Internet of Things" devices such as light switches and other systems and functions that do not require a particularly high transmission capacity.

Article by Jorunn D. Newth

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