Understanding WiFi 802.11 Standards

Making Sense of The Different Standards of the WiFi Protocol

WiFi Standard Compatibility
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WiFi is the wireless technology by excellence for local area networks. It is hard to imagine your smartphone, tablet PC, router, repeater or any other mobile device or desktop computer without being WiFi enabled. We are slowly ditching Ethernet's wires.

One of the first things we verify in the specifications before buying a mobile device is whether it supports WiFi because it opens the door to installations, tweaks, updates, and communication, things without which such a device would be pointless.

But is it sufficient to just check WiFi? To know more about WiFi's worth, limitations and benefits, read this explanation

In most cases, yes, but when it comes to specific hardware like repeaters and routers, it is good to check the WiFi versions. 

Compatibility Between WiFi Standards 

The access point that generates the WiFi hotspot, such as a router, and the connecting device, need to have versions in common for connection and transfer to success. It does succeed in nearly all cases because there is backward compatibility, but the problem lies in limitations. For example, if you have the latest Samsung Galaxy that supports the latest version of WiFi, ready to accommodate speeds in gigabits per second, but are connecting it to a network with an access point that supports an older and slower version of WiFi, your shiny smartphone will be no better than any other phone in terms of connection speed.


WiFi works in two different frequency spectrum - 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The latter offers a larger range and is less crippled, hence faster connection, but is less reliable than the former. If a device that works on the first spectrum only tries to connect to one that works on the second spectrum only, the connection will not succeed.

Fortunately, most modern devices work with both spectra. 

It is, therefore, possible that you have potentially good hardware and software for fast connection, but which is slow and of low quality only because of some incompatibility somewhere, in which case you may want to change some settings, or simply change an adapter or a device. 


The WiFi Standards And Their Specifications 

WiFi is technically referred to as the 802.11 protocol. The different standards that kept coming throughout the years are represented by lower case letters as a suffix. Here are some: 

802.11 - The first version which launched in 1977. It is now no longer used. It works on 2.4 GHz. 

802.11a - Works on 5GHz. Speed 54 Mbps. Has difficulty passing through obstacles, hence has poor range. 

802.11b - Works on the more reliable 2.4Ghz and gives up to 11 Mbps. This version came around when WiFi exploded in popularity. 

802.11g - Released in 2003. Still works on reliable 2.4GHz, but increased the maximum speed to 54 Mbps. It is the best in these early versions of WiFi before the next big leap to come in 2009. Many devices are still running this version with success because it is cheaper to implement. 

802.11n - Changes in network technicalities and transmission mechanisms increase the speed to up to 600 Mbps, with some other advantages.


802.11ac - An improvement of the previous standard, making better use of the 5Ghz spectrum, and giving speeds well beyond 1 Gbps. 

802.11ax - This improves 802.11ac to increase the speed manifold, theoretically reaching up to 10 Gbps. It also increases the efficiency of WLANs. 

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