Wi-Fi, things you need to know about the different standards

Are you lost between all Wi-Fi 802.11 declinations (a/b/g/n/ac/ad/ax/ah…)? MU-MIMO, Wi-Fi Direct, Aware and TimeSync don’t tell you much?

Let us, therefore, go back to the basics of understanding what this is all about. Because yes, not all “Wi-Fi” is the same, far from it!

Behind the “Wi-Fi” name lies a myriad of technologies and standards, each with its particularities. The best known are of course the 802.11b/g/n/ac, but there are many others. To add some complexity, there are sometimes significant differences within the same standard.

So, between two Wi-Fi 802.11n and 802.11ac routers there can be significant gaps in performance and functionality, so it’s important to know what it’s all about before you make your choice. To avoid being lost in the jungle of acronyms, here is a glossary of relevant terms to know.

Frequency and rate reminders

Before entering deeper into this subject, an important reminder: the evoked flows are theoretical maximums. They will therefore always be lower in practice, even under perfect conditions. Then know that the signal is disturbed by the presence of walls, a microwave oven (on the 2.4 GHz band) and depends of course on the distance. This can cause flow rates to drop rapidly and the connection to be cut off, even over short distances.

Also, in Wi-Fi, the manufacturers always talk about Mb/s (or Gb/s) and not about Mo/s (or Go/s): to convert them you have to divide them by 8. Thus, 300 Mb/s gives “only” 37.5 MB/s, while 1 Gb/s corresponds to about 125 MB/s. Here again, always in theory and of course at most (see our test of Google Wifi to be well aware of it).

As in mobile telephony, the lower the frequency, the farther away it is. However, higher frequencies have more bandwidth to reach higher speeds. In Wi-Fi, the most commonly used are 2.4 GHz (best range) and 5 GHz (best rate).

The youngest will undoubtedly remember the 802.11a (up to 54 Mbps) in the 5 GHz band and the 802.11b (up to 11 Mbps) in the 2.4 GHz band, both standards dating back to 1999. The 802.11b was replaced in 2003 by the 802.11g. It is backward compatible with the previous standard and capable of climbing up to 54 Mbps.