WiFi requires no introduction since most of use it every day. While a lot of people may know about it, most people never really notice which WiFi standard is used by their routers. Knowing your WiFi standard can prove helpful in knowing its speed and range. You can check your WiFi router’s specs on its back or bottom if you like. However, this year, some new WiFi standards are launching, and its going to be an exciting space to watch given how ubiquitous the technology has got when it comes to the daily lives of millions of people.
A Brief History of Old WiFi Standards
Let’s start off with what WiFi is called in technical terms. IEEE, the world’s largest association for advancing technology, named 802.11 as the technical name for WiFi or (WLAN) which is followed by alphabets. These alphabets are used to identify the latest standards and their abilities for example, 802.11g or 802.11b, and so on.
You’ll probably find routers that support WiFi 802.11n if you’ve recently got a new connection or 802.11g if you got one a few years ago. Routers often come with backwards compatibility meaning they can connect to devices using older standards and support everything from 802.11a to the latest standard.
Here’s a table detailing what’s the theoretical data speed of each old standard used for consumer routers and what frequency it operates at:
Since WiFi 802.11n, routers have started to support multiple antennas which can connect to multiple devices separately, adding to the routers’ data rate (speed) capabilities.
If you are wondering why these speeds even matter when you don’t get that fast of an internet connection in most parts of the planet, it’s because WiFi speeds can affect your download speeds when multiple users are connected to a single router (access point). The biggest benefit of higher speeds is that you can view and share Full HD or 4K movies and data wirelessly without buffering issues, depending on your ISP speeds and network hardware (router in this case) of course. Router speeds have a major impact on multiplayer gaming ping times as well for local area network setups.
The New WiFi Standards
While WiFi 802.11ac would have us pretty much covered for most cases, technology just can’t stop improving. With bigger data requirements and wireless problems to address, new standards have been introduced in 2016 which will cater to different usage scenarios and expanding the WiFi usage portfolio.
802.11ad is the latest to come and often referred to as the WiGiG standard. It works on the 60GHz spectrum and requires a lot more power compared to the normal 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands. The standard’s requirements were recently finalised and it has been incorporated into the latest TVs, laptops and even smartphones (so far it’s available on only one smartphone i.e. Le Max Pro).
The new standard’s use of such a high frequency spectrum means that it can transfer data at a much faster data rate at the expense of range. WiGiG works within a room at most and can transfer data an unbelievable 7Gbit/s. This speed surpasses most hard drives but cannot be used outside a room. Devices need to be within line of sight for this to work. Think of it as Bluetooth that takes more power, is more expensive to implement (at present) and can transfer data more than a thousand times faster.
With this new standard, the WiFi Association has dealt with the problem of huge file transfers and the relatively new 4K movie streaming.
WiFi HaLow (802.11ah)
802.11 ah deals with the next big problem faced by the current WiFi networks; power consumption and range. It’s being called WiFi HaLow and is aimed towards long range internet access and IoT (Internet of Things). This standard is designed to work with a range of up to 1km, provided there’s no interference.
HaLow works at 900MHz, about the same frequency that 2G mobile networks operate at. The trade-off here is that with the extended range and low power consumption, the data speeds decrease a lot. WiFi HaLow devices will be able to transmit at speeds of 18Mbits/s at most. The speeds can go as low as 150kbit/s depending on the conditions. This tech is more appropriate for IoT since these devices have to send small strings of data or in certain scenarios where a cheap long range WiFi network is required solely for internet access.
The final specifications for 802.11ah or HaLow will be finalised by March 2016. After that’s done, manufacturers will be able to produce components for use in future products.
White-Fi or Super WiFi (802.11af)
802.11af has been named as Super WiFi or White-Fi. This WiFi network will make use of the television spectrum frequencies ranging between 54MHz and 790Mhz, making it one of the longest range WiFi networks but without the massive speed disadvantage that HaLow networks will face.
The tech will use cognitive radio technology so that TV signals do not suffer from any interference. The network will be based on WiFi 802.11ac and make use of spectra not in use by TV stations. Network speeds can vary between 27Mbit/s to 36Mbit/s for single channel and 427Mbit/s to 569Mbit/s when using multiple bonded channels.
Once again, the final specifications haven’t yet been decided and these networks will require licensing in countries where they are to be operated. 802.11af could bring new applications for IoT alongside industrial and commercial uses. Once finalised, this will most certainly bring some interesting developments to the market.
WiFi is becoming faster than ever and engineering teams behind it are hard at work to make it useable across a much wider portfolio of usage scenarios. They have managed to solve most problems that previous WiFi standards were facing. Let’s keep an eye out on what the future holds.
Do you think these new standards will solve most of our problems regarding data that’s being consumed over wireless networks? Let us know in the comments below.