The “802.11” wireless standard (or what we call WiFi) was first published in the late 1990’s by the US Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) to allow device manufacturers to independently develop 2.4GHz (and later 5GHz) wireless products and ensure that they are forward compatible. Over the years, there have been advancements in the technology that have allowed faster data rates and improved reliability. Most devices designed with the earliest 802.11 standards are still compatible with the latest 802.11 routers – which is testament to how robustly the IEEE designed that original spec. This is a summary of how the standard has evolved:
802.11b – In 1999, the first mainstream consumer products (such as the Linksys BEFW11S4 router and the original Apple iBook) were designed with WiFi using the 2.4GHz frequency band and had a maximum data rate of 11M bits per second (Mb/s).
802.11g – By 2002, the IEEE released this faster specification that took advantage of improvements in chip performance to increase the maximum data rate to 54Mbps, and maintaining forward and backward compatibility with earlier 802.11b devices.
802.11n – In 2009, this specification integrated multiple signal technology (called “Multiple Input Multiple Output”, or MIMO) and also optional use of the 5GHz band. This increased the speed and range of WiFi and reached a maximum data rate of 300Mbps.
802.11ac – In 2013, the IEEE published this new dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) specification to optimize use of the frequency spectrum and signalling to allow up to 1300 Mbps at 5GHz plus another 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.
The Differences Between a 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless Network:
- Supports most Wi-Fi devices
- Better range
- Less attenuation by walls and objects
- Congested band due to Bluetooth, cellphones and lots of other non-standard wireless devices
- Fastest data rates
- Relatively uncongested frequency band (at the moment)
- Not suitable for some devices due to antenna complexity, range limitations and power consumption