Wireless Standards for Wifi and Smart Homes / IoT

Logos: IEEE 802.11, Wi-Fi 6, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth

Which wifi standards are brand new, in regular use–or far too old? Here’s an overview of wireless standards for wifi and IoT.

Wifi Standards

The standards for wireless communication commonly referred to as “wifi” are developed and maintained by IEEE 802, which is a group governed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Therefore, the standards coming out of this group are referred to as 802.11, adding letters to the number as versioning.

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

From 2018, WiFi Alliance introduced 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
802.11beWi-Fi 7The very first products hit the market in 2023. Certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance started in January 2024, and finalization of the standard is expected within the year. The standard spans all three frequency bands.

Theoretical max speed: 46.1 Gbps
802.11axWi-Fi 6
Wi-Fi 6E
Wi-Fi Alliance certification started September 2019, the earliest products were available in late 2018. Standard finalized mai 2021.

Also referred to as “high efficiency wireless”, the goal has been quadrupling throughput compared to 802.11ac.

This standard includes both 2.4, 5 and, for the first time, 6 GHz.

Theoretical top speed: 9.6 Gbps

Most Wi-Fi 6 products do not support 6 GHz. Wi-Fi 6E is a certification specifically for 6 GHz compatible products.
You can read more about 6 GHz wifi here.
Read more about what we expect from 802.11ax
802.11acWi-Fi 5In use from 2014. Focus was on increased speed, and only the 5 GHz frequency band was included.

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
The first version of the standard to include both 2.4 and 5 GHz.

Theoretical top speed: 600 Mbps

This version also 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
Only included the 2.4 GHz band.
Theoretical top speed: 54 Mbps
802.11a and 802.11bIn use from 1999
Theoretical top speeds:
802.11a: 54 mbps (5 GHz)
802.11b: 11 mbps (2,4 GHz)

You can read more about how wifi developed in The History of Wifi


Other Wireless Standards

These wireless data transfer standards are used over short distances, typically in smart homes and for wireless accessories.

BluetoothInvented in 1994, now maintained by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Typically used for connecting wireless accessories like headsets and for synchronization between devices like smart watches, mobile phones, and laptops.
See also: 10 things that interfere with and block wifi signals
ZigBeeOften used for smart home devices such as light switches and other systems and functions that do not require a particularly high transmission capacity.
Z-WaveOften used for smart home devices such as light switches and other systems and functions that do not require a particularly high transmission capacity.
802.11ahDesigned for slower speeds, longer distances, lower power consumption and smart devices / IoT.
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?

Article by Jorunn Danielsen