Within the Wi-Fi 7 Standard: Growth and Business Impact

I discussed the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 release in my latest ZKast with David Coleman, Director of Wireless in the CTO’s office at Extreme Networks, which already has Wi-Fi 7 products in the works.

Coleman explained what’s new in the standard and how it compares to Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, 5G and private 5G. The highlights of the ZKast interview, conducted in partnership with eWEEK eSPEAKS, are below.

Also see: Understanding the differences between 5G, WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E

The Enterprise Wi-Fi Market

The importance of Wi-Fi in today’s society cannot be overstated. Technically, it is access technology that connects devices to corporate and home networks, allowing for quick and easy access to the Internet.

In the early days, Wi-Fi was primarily used by consumers at home and then found its way into businesses. Today, the technology is mature enough to be used across every industry vertical and has become the foundation of digital experiences — many of which begin on mobile devices.

Over the years, Wi-Fi generations have evolved (and improved) to offer new features like faster speeds, less bandwidth congestion, and longer battery life. Wi-Fi 6E extends the efficiency capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 to the 6 gigahertz (GHz) band, a multi-lane superhighway for high-bandwidth applications.

Although Wi-Fi 6E is a fairly new standard, an even newer standard is emerging: Wi-Fi 7. As with previous generations, Wi-Fi 7 promises significant improvements over Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.

Also see: WiFi 6 E is critical to modernizing healthcare

Interview and Highlights

Watch the highlights of the video interview below:

Wi-Fi 7, officially known as IEEE 802.11be, is still being finalized by the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry organization responsible for certifying interoperability between devices based on the standard. While the Wi-Fi Alliance announced plans for Wi-Fi 7 certification, the official date has not yet been released. Like previous standards, Wi-Fi 7 will be backwards compatible, coexisting with legacy devices in the 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz bands. Wi-Fi 7 builds on Wi-Fi 6E by using the 6 GHz band and increasing throughput even further. The new standard focuses on physical (PHY) and medium access control (MAC), which can support a maximum throughput of at least 30 gigabits per second (Gbps). It can potentially reduce latency and jitter for time-sensitive applications such as augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), 4K and 8K video streaming, as well as mission-critical and industrial applications. Wi-Fi 7 is expected to enable new enterprise-class services such as Multi-Link Operation (MLO), which could use multiple Wi-Fi connections to reduce latency, increase reliability, and to increase throughput. In theory, Wi-Fi 7 will cover three channels in all three bands. A Wi-Fi 7 client and a Wi-Fi 7 access point (AP) could transmit on different channels in different bands by link steering. This could potentially provide high throughput and backhaul connections, which offers the most value for the business. Another unique feature of Wi-Fi 7 is 4K QAM modulation, which increases peak rates and increases throughput/capacity compared to Wi-Fi systems with 1K QAM modulation. These complex modulation schemes require a pristine radio frequency (RF) environment and higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Wi-Fi 5 required an SNR of around 25 decibels (dB) and Wi-Fi 6 required around 32 dB. With 4K QAM modulation, there must now be an SNR of around 41 to 42 dB, which is difficult to achieve at 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 7 also supports the 320 megahertz (MHz) ultra-wide channel, which has a throughput four times that of 80 MHz and two times that of 160 MHz. The larger the channel, the more data it can modulate. While it sounds great in theory, this doesn’t scale across the enterprise. Enterprises are likely to experience channel interference when using multiple APs. The biggest hype surrounding Wi-Fi 7 is its ability to deliver high-speed, multi-gigabit internet connections. Wi-Fi 6 has a maximum theoretical speed of 9.6 Gbps, while Wi-Fi 6E offers the same speed with the added benefit of the 6 GHz band. Wi-Fi 7 may be able to reach 33 Gbps, although not likely. Realistically, it will be less when Wi-Fi 7 is deployed in actual enterprise environments with multiple clients and APs. Some vendors have already announced Wi-Fi 7 chipsets and radios, including Broadcom and Intel. The chipsets are currently being tested and will be built into future products. The first consumer Wi-Fi 7 home routers are expected to launch between March and May this year. Enterprise-class products are expected to follow in the first half of 2024. None of these products are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance as there is no certification yet. Any business currently in a refresh cycle should think beyond Wi-Fi 6. If you don’t plan another refresh in five to six years, you have no way to 6 GHz. The move to Wi-Fi 6E now ensures access to the 6GHz superhighway of the spectrum. However, organizations that recently deployed Wi-Fi 6E are unlikely to upgrade to Wi-Fi 7 immediately. Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 will be a replacement for those who currently have Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6. Upgrading switches now is also a good idea for future-proofing, but this can be done gradually over time. Despite Wi-Fi 7’s promise of faster speeds, businesses should primarily focus on their unique use cases and improving the wireless user experience.

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