Digital Communication


Digital Communication

What is Wi-Fi? Presentation of the WLAN standard


The term “Wi-Fi” refers to a network standard; the devices that benefit from it are in fact certified within the framework of the Wi-Fi Alliance. “Wi-Fi” and “WLAN” are often used synonymously, but in reality, Wi-Fi only refers to a certain type of WLAN.

What exactly is Wi-Fi?

In reality, “Wi-Fi” is first and foremost a brand name. It designates on the one hand the Wi-Fi Alliance, and on the other hand the WLAN devices certified by this company, in accordance with the IEEE 802.11 standard. This standard concerns devices that can interact with others within the same network, which meet certain security and quality characteristics. A device can only truly be considered a Wi-Fi device if it obtains the relevant certification issued by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Abroad, in common parlance, the term “Wi-Fi” is however used for all forms of wireless network (i.e. as a synonym for “WLAN”). In Germany, for example, “WLAN” remains the most used term.

What does “Wi-Fi” mean?

The term “Wi-Fi” is English; it is a contraction of “Wireless Fidelity”. It was coined by a consultancy agency and is meant to be reminiscent of another similar term, “Hi-Fi”. It was created with the aim ofimprove recognition value of the designation “IEEE 802.11”, which seemed too long. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s original advertising slogan was “The standard for Wireless Fidelity”; it made it possible to find the catchy name used today to designate a wireless network. The Wi-Fi Alliance itself is a consortium, comprising more than 300 companies. This alliance was founded with the aim of establishing a uniform standard, capable of guaranteeing the compatibility of devices, regardless of the manufacturer.

Wi-Fi vs. WLAN: what’s the difference?

While the terms “Wi-Fi” and “WLAN” are often used synonymously, the reality is somewhat different. The acronym “WLAN” stands for “Wireless Local Area Network”; it therefore designates a network allowing devices to connect to the Internet, without using a wire. And what is Wi-Fi? We have already explained this above: Wi-Fi is characteristic of a certain type of network, certified in accordance with the IEEE 802.11 standard. As there are other standards, it can be assumed that Wi-Fi always corresponds to WLAN, but WLAN is not necessarily Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi remains the most widespread standard in the world.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Originally, there was only one Wi-Fi standard, and all devices that met its requirements were certified. Once tested and approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance, they could therefore display the “Wi-Fi certified” label. However, as the differences between generations have continued to grow over time, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided in 2018 that certification also had to take these different developments into account. As official designations such as “IEEE 802.11n” or “IEEE 802.11ac” were considered too long, the decision was taken to number the different Wi-Fi generations. In theory, these differ in the speed they are able to achieve.

The old Wi-Fi standards ranging from 1 to 3 are not really used anymore, and more and more devices are being certified as compliant with latest generations, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. Introduced in 2021, their speed can today reach 600 to 9,608 Mbit/second. The Wi-Fi 4 standard from 2009 (up to 600 Mbit/second) and the Wi-Fi 5 standard from 2013 (up to 6,933 Mbit/second) are also still in use to this day. The Wi-Fi 7 standard has already been announced for 2024.

Our digital guide contains many other interesting articles on different types of networks, wired and wireless. Discover with us LAN and WAN technologies, but also everything there is to know about Wi-Fi security.

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