What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi allows devices to send and receive data without using cables. It operates based on normal everyday light. The only difference between the light that you see with your eyes and Wi-Fi signals is the frequency that Wi-Fi uses. Your eyes can see frequencies between 400 and 790 Terahertz which is much higher than the radio waves of 2.4 Gigahertz and 5 Gigahertz that Wi-Fi uses. These lower frequencies allow light to pierce walls, floors, ceilings, doors, people, pets, and most other common household materials.

You may have heard people talk about 802.11g or n or ac but that terminology is generally reserved for IT professionals these days. Nowadays we call each Wi-Fi standard by a number starting with 1 and moving up to 6 (where it currently stands). Generally, the higher the Wi-Fi number you have supported on your laptop and Wi-Fi router, or access point, the better.

There is more that goes into Wi-Fi than is covered in this article, but these are the basics that can get you up and running in your network.


Name Standard Frequency Speed
Wi-Fi 1 802.11a 5 Ghz 11 mbps
Wi-Fi 2 802.11b 2.4 Ghz 54 mbps
Wi-Fi 3 802.11g 2.4 Ghz 54 mbps
Wi-Fi 4 802.11n 2.4 and 5 Ghz 300 mbps
Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac 5 Ghz 1200 mbps
Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax 2.4 and 5 Ghz 3000 mbps

You will see that Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 support speeds that are above the standard Gigabit speed that corporate and home networks currently support. In the future Wi-Fi routers and Access Points will be moving to a 2.5 Gbps standard.

Also please note that Wi-Fi 6 supports up to 3000 Mbps if your internet speed from your ISP (such as Comcast or AT&T) only offers 500 Mbps then that will be the maximum speed you can download from the internet.

I note the frequency here because the general rule of thumb is 2.4 GHz allows for greater distance, but the speeds are going to be lower. You might have bought a smart doorbell or smart speaker; those devices typically only support 2.4 GHz because they do not need to pass much data to do their job.

Your computer will automatically select the best band if you have a Wi-Fi card that supports Wi-Fi 5 or 6.

For example:

Alex has a Wi-Fi adapter on their laptop that supports Wi-Fi 6. At Alex’s home, their Wi-Fi router supports Wi-Fi 6 so it connects using the Wi-Fi 6 standard.

At their office, Alex connects to an access point that only supports Wi-Fi 5 so their laptop automatically configures itself to use Wi-Fi 5 standard.

Alex’s parents have a very old network that they keep around because it works just fine and only supports Wi-Fi 3. Their laptop will connect using Wi-Fi 3 standard.

If your company is experiencing issues with network speeds and connectivity that are not resolved by this article, it may be a great time to also learn what managed services providers can do for your business and connect with one of our experts. Framework IT is an award-winning IT managed services provider. We’ve successfully managed all aspects of the technology of businesses of all sizes for over a decade