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Wi-Fi group clears up naming confusion

Ever heard of Wi-Fi5? A standards body for wireless networking plans to change the confusing name--and also plans to freshen up its own appellation.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
The confusing mix of names used to describe wireless networking equipment based on the 802.11 standard might just become a little simpler.

The Wireless Ethernet Compatability Alliance (WECA), a leading standards body for wireless networking, was set to call wireless networks using the 802.11a standard "Wi-Fi5."

The name refers to the fact that the new equipment available from Cisco Systems and others uses the 5GHz range. The original "Wi-Fi," based on the 802.11b standard that operates in the 2.4GHz range, is used by 15 million to 18 million customers.

But nobody got it, said Chairman Dennis Eaton, adding that the group has tentatively dropped plans to stamp 802.11a equipment it approves as "Wi-Fi5 Certified."

"The second question we got during focus groups was 'What happened to Wi-Fi 2,3 and 4?'" Eaton said. "They'd ask 'Why did you jump to five?' We found it to be confusing and sent the wrong message to consumers."

WECA is an industry alliance that publishes standards for wireless equipment makers to follow. The group also tests equipment for interoperability, such as if a laptop modem from Cisco works with an access point using Agere Systems' equipment. If it does, WECA gives the equipment its seal of approval.

Analysts have applauded the name change, which is still pending final approvals.

"Unless you were really knowledgeable, you didn't know what they were talking about," said Aaron Vance, a wireless analyst with Synergy Research Group.

There is an alphabet soup of versions of 802.11 that have varying levels of security or speed. For example, the wildly popular Wi-Fi networks operate on 802.11b, but 802.11a and 802.11g have been developed to be more secure or to travel on more channels.

WECA itself is also getting a name change. It will soon be known as the "Wi-Fi Alliance," Eaton said.

The name change is the result of a "chicken-and-egg thing," he said. When the standards body was first created, the name Wi-Fi didn't exist. But they had to create a name to incorporate, so they invented "Wireless Ethernet," he said.

But WECA officials found themselves fielding questions from Wi-Fi companies as to whether they were the right organization to approach. After all, Eaton said, all it was doing was certifying Wi-Fi products, so why wasn't it called the Wi-Fi Alliance?

"This will hopefully eliminate some of that confusion," Eaton said.