Rebranding Networks: Wi-Fi 5 vs 5G

The hype around 5G mobile networks seems to have the Wi-Fi Alliance crowd a little nervous. In early October they launched a rebranding initiative to make the alphabet soup of Wi-Fi easier for grannies to understand. Were once we refereed to 802.11a/b/c/n/ac and/or 802.11ax…now, to be Wi-Fi certified, the correct terminology is:

  • Wi-Fi 4 (formerly 802.11n)
  • Wi-Fi 5 (formerly 802.11ac)
  • Wi-Fi 6 (formerly 802.11ax)

The entire guide to this new marketecture, which includes a library of symbols for use on packaging, is here. It’s worth a glance. Remember, the point of the exercise is to bring clarity to the oh-so-confusing world of Wi-Fi.

They say that, in battle, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate friends from enemies. Today’s case in point; cheesy manufacturers.

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Here’s a picture of a video surveillance system originally posted to the Streaming Idiots group on Facebook. I found it offered on Trademe.co.nz. Streaming Idiots is a closed group for people involved in streaming media production. It’s quite a good group, too.

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This product does not appear to be Wi-Fi certified, although it’s pretty obvious in its assertion about being both WiFi and 5G. We might infer that it leverages Wi-Fi on the 5.8 GHz band. However, that’s just an educated guess.

I suppose 5.8 GHz would be a step up from the more commonplace 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, which is massively congested spectrum virtually everywhere. My sense is that this manufacturer is simply lazy and/or sloppy in describing the product as “5G.“

Hanlon’s razor tells us, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Some simple Googling reveals that the surveillance tech market makes widespread use of the terms 5G and 2.4G to indicate frequency bands. Only about half the time do they use X GHz, which is the more accurate claim. On its own, that’s a small thing.

In the realm of mobile phones, 4G means LTE, unless you’re T-Mobile, where it has also meant bonded HSPA+. Better informed folks called that 3.5G, but hey…marketecture!

Wi-Fi 4 means 802.11n, which can be at 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz, often referred to as simply 5G.

Verizon and AT&T are now rolling out 5G mobile networks. That 5G is not the same as 5G WiFi or the newly minted Wi-Fi 5.

I think this new generation Wi-Fi terminology has the potential to be confusing.