Understanding 802.11x: Explaining Wi-Fi standards and speeds

The considerable news in wireless is the anticipated endorsement of Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) by the IEEE standards body early this year. Some vendors are already shipping pre-standard Wi-Fi 7 gear, and the Wi-Fi Alliance announced in January that it has commenced certifying Wi-Fi 7 products.

While the embrace of Wi-Fi 7 is projected to have the greatest influence on the wireless market, the IEEE has been busy working on other wireless standards as well. In 2023 alone, the group issued 802.11bb, a standard for communication via light waves; 802.11az, which greatly enhances location precision; and 802.11bd for vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communication.

Looking forward, IEEE working groups are addressing new technology areas, such as improved data privacy (802.11bi), WLAN sensing (802.11bf), and randomized and changing MAC addresses (802.11bh).



Additionally, the IEEE has established special-interest groups to examine the use of ambient energy harvested from the environment, such as heat, to power IoT devices. There’s a study group examining standards for high-throughput, low-latency applications such as augmented reality/virtual reality. Another group is formulating new algorithms to support AI/ML applications.



Here’s a summary of Wi-Fi standards broken down into four categories: core standards that are widely utilized today, newly approved standards that are entering the mainstream, niche standards, and future standards that are in development.



What are the Wi-Fi core standards?

Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)

Dating back to 2013, Wi-Fi 5 operates on the 5 GHz frequency band and supports multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology. This allows for faster data transmission and better overall coverage. Wi-Fi 5 can theoretically transmit data at speeds of up to 3.5 Gbps, but speeds of more than 1 Gbps are more realistic. Wi-Fi 5 devices are still widely deployed, primarily in consumer and home office deployments.

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