There are a number of wireless standards (grouped by the IEEE 802.11 code) out there that can be used for home and business uses to provide WiFi. If your router supports an older one, you won’t get the faster speeds, and vice versa if your device has an older one, so let’s cover them all today.
Wi-Fi 6 and 6E (802.11ax) is the current Wi-Fi standard for 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz bands, but will soon be replaced with Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be)
WiGig (802.11ad) gives much faster throughput on the 60GHz band for shorter distances, which is being replaced by 802.11ay which has the highest throughput.
Light is also a contender (802.11bb)
Back in 1985, the US Federal Communications Commission released their ISM (Industry, Scientific and Medical) band for unlicensed use.
In 1991, NCR and AT&T created the precursor to 802.11 as a method of wirelessly connecting cash registers together, called WaveLAN.
Later that year, this became the 802.11 standard and used the already crowded 2.4GHz frequency band to send at 1Mb/s to 2Mb/s and was unofficially coined WiFi-0) and had an indoor range of 20m (66ft) and outdoor range of 100m (133ft)
In September 1999, the 802.11a standard used the lesser used 5GHz frequency band which enabled faster speeds at up to 54Mb/s with slightly longer range than 802.11.
This was rapidly adopted in the US and Japan but in Europe, it took until 2002 for the frequency allocation to be freed up and adopted.
This has unofficially been called WiFi-2.
There are also a number of amendments made to 802.11a such as 802.11j for Japan to use the 4.9-5GHz bands; 802.11y to use the satellite band 3.7GHz to provide outdoor only distances of 5km; 802.11p for WAVE (Wireless Access for Vehicular Environments) on 5.9GHz band which boasts 200m indoor and 1km outdoor range and 802.11bd on 5.9GHz and 60GHz bands which also boasts 500m indoor and 1km outdoor range.
Also in September 1999, the 802.11b standard had led to the improvement over the 802.11 standard and offered backwards compatibility with the 802.11 but not 802.11a. The speed had been increased to 11Mb/s and the outdoor range increased to 140m.
This has unofficially been called Wifi-1.
By 2003, 802.11g was the standard to bring 54Mb/s to the 2.4GHz band while increasing the indoor range to 38m.
This was unofficially called WiFi-3.
In 2009, 802.11n (often called Nimo and WiFi-4) was released and is the first to make use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands together to offer 72-600Mb/s.
802.11n doubled the indoor range to 70m, while outdoor range was extended to 250m.
In 2013, 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) was released to provide 433-6933Mb/s over the 5GHz band. The range is half that of the 802.11 and offers no outdoor range.
In 2021, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6/6E) was released to provide up to 9600Mb/s (9.6Gb/s) over 2.4GHz and 5GHz as well as 6GHz with Wi-Fi 6E) over 30m indoors and 120m outdoors.
The latest upcoming standard due next year will be 802.11be (Wi-Fi 7)which will provide up to 46Gb/s over 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz bands with the same range as 802.11ax.
WiGig (also called mmWave)
WiGig is different to the standard offerings of Wi-Fi in that it operates on much higher data throughput but with much shorter range and directional line-of-sight antenna.
802.11ad came out in December 2012 and uses the 60GHz band, this is limited to 3.3m range but provides up to 8Gb/s bandwidth.
802.11aj came out in April 2018 on the 45GHz band and is mainly used in China.
802.11ay came out in July 2021 and adds support for MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out) support so that Wi-Fi can use 8 channels to push up to 303Gb/s over 10m indoors and 100m outdoors.
802.11 doesn’t just refer to radio frequency broadcast, but also covers light communication. It doesn’t cover fibre optics but irDA and Li-Fi.
802.11-1997 is referred to as legacy mode communication and irDA used to feature on a lot of devices in the past. irDA can communicate at 1 or 2 Mb/s over a limited distance.
802.11bb is due to be introduced in December 2023 and will offer line of sight communication using light at up to 9.6Gb/s. Since this is an indoor system it doesn’t have radio frequency interference, however sunlight and artificial light can affect it.