Technology

A Plain-Language Lesson From a Wi-Fi Group

By / Oct 5, 2018 (Bulat/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

After relying on technical names for its standards for two decades, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced this week that it would go with something more user-friendly: Wi-Fi 6.

If you’ve ever been confused about whether your wireless router was a good one, a new standard from the Wi-Fi Alliance might make your life a lot easier. And that approach could offer a lesson to associations that promote technology directly to consumers.

The alliance, which helps manage wireless networking standards, decided to rebrand the forthcoming 802.11ax standard as Wi-Fi 6, adopting a naming convention intended to make it more obvious that one version of the standard is better than another. Previous standards will also be renamed, with the current high-water mark, 802.11ac, to be called Wi-Fi 5, and the older 802.11n  becoming Wi-Fi 4.

It’s the most ambitious rebranding of the technology in its 21-year history.  “For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Wi-Fi Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa in a news release. He said the new naming scheme would “help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

Although it’s likely confusing to most consumers, there is a rhyme and reason to the older naming convention. It’s based on terminology standards set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), specifically its LAN/MAN Standards Committee, also known as the IEEE 802 committee.

The committee is responsible for setting standards for different types of local area networking, with 802.3 set aside for wired ethernet and 802.15.1 intended for Bluetooth. The best known of these standards, due to its use in marketing, is 802.11, which is set aside for wireless networking, or Wi-Fi.

The letters at the end of the 802.11 standards refer to different iterations of wireless technology developed by the group, many of which are offshoots of the traditional Wi-Fi standard.

The new Wi-Fi 6 technology aims to improve on the existing standards through more efficient use of spectrum, while adding additional frequency bands to the existing options.

For consumers, these are improvements, of course, but the biggest improvement is the terminology itself—which might actually convince people on the fence about a router upgrade to go ahead and purchase a new device.

The lesson? Get too technical with consumers and they might just stay on the sidelines.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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