Do New Wireless Standards Need Catchy Names?

By Tom Hollingsworth, Blog Contributor
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As we enter a new era of wireless standards, I find myself more and more troubled by the fact that they appear to be named by a committee of people that will never speak to another human being. It's all well and good that we have gotten to the point where my mom more or less knows the difference between 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. However, we have so many other standards under the 802.11 umbrella that it's tough to keep them straight. How about 802.11i? 802.11w? Do you know the difference between 802.11ac and 802.11ad without looking at the spec sheet?

One of the things that the Wi-Fi consortium did right in the beginning was giving the emerging standard a catchy name. Sure, Wi-Fi doesn't really mean anything. It kind of sounds like Hi-Fi (that was the point), but even that was dropped. Now, you see the term everywhere. It is even used to refer to things that aren't strictly Wi-Fi. When a term reaches the point of universal ubiquity you can rest assured that means that it has reached a saturation point. We don't necessarily need to know the difference between the various 802.11 specifications so long as we know we're going to have Wi-Fi.

The coming storm is the fact that Wi-Fi has become such a common term that we are lumping everything under the umbrella that has an 802.11 number attached to it. There is a world of difference between 802.11b and 802.11ad. In fact, other than the numbers, about the only thing they really share in common is that they are wireless transmission protocols. They don't run at the same speed, the same distance, or even in the same frequency. I have a difficult time educating people about the differences between 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Even separating the SSIDs in my environments has done nothing to promote people to use the 40MHz 802.11a/n network to alleviate congestion in the 802.11b/g/n range. I've resorted to using social engineering tricks like calling the 5GHz SSID "Fast Wireless" to get people to move to it if they see it. How do we fix that problem?

We're going to have to start finding a way to differentiate the various wireless standards to people that don't converse with machines. For instance, if we call 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi we're getting somewhere. However, we're going to need to find a way to make it noticeablly different that 802.11ad, which has similar speeds but much shorter ranges. Maybe calling it something like Gadget Interconnect? Or Cableless Connect? Something to make it appear to the customer to be more than just a jumble of characters after a cat ran across a keyboard.

One thing I think we absolutely must not do is confuse it with a different wireless specfication. There is a marketing campaign by a radio manufacturer trying to brand 802.11ac as "5G" wireless. This downright silly. The "G" spec is defined by the ITU for use by mobile phones running over various UTMS/HSPDA/LTE transmission. The term should not be used to describe 802.11 transmission equipment for a variety of reasons. What happens when the ITU finally develops a 5G standard (and you know they will), you could have conversations like this:

User - "I can't get to the sales proposal."

IT - "It's on the company intranet. Are you connected to the Wi-Fi?"

User - "Yes. My phone says I'm on 5G. That's the wireless, right?"

IT - ""

I think that once we come up with a way to create terms that help differentiate new wireless standards while at the same time making them more accessible to regular people, we will drive adoption at a much faster rate. It's a whole lot easier for people to go into a big box retailer and ask for "Gadget Interconnect" than it is for them to go in with a list of alpahbet soup names and hope they got the right one written down. The easier we make it on the users, the better the results.