Author: Monica Paolini, PhD, founded Senza Fili in 2003
This article is part of a two part series, click here to access the first article “Wi-Fi 6: Expanding the role of Wi-Fi in the Enterprise.”
Wi-Fi 6 has just been launched, but Wi-Fi 7 is already on the horizon as the next generation of Wi-Fi, continuing an impressive evolution of a technology that was launched over 20 years ago. What new features and capabilities will Wi-Fi 7 deliver? Who will need Wi-Fi 7? When will it be available? Here we present an overview of Wi-Fi 7 and the anticipated benefits that it will bring to Wi-Fi users. Successful technologies evolve continuously – the evolution never stops. The more successful the technology, the greater the need to keep improving the user experience. Wi-Fi is one of the most successful wireless technologies. And with success comes the need to innovate.
Wi-Fi must continue to improve performance, increase spectrum efficiency, reduce costs, and, most importantly, and make the user experience better to retain its prominence. Together with 5G, Wi-Fi will keep us connected and extend its reach to those among us who are still unconnected. This is why, even as Wi-Fi 6 was just becoming commercially available in 2019, work was already underway on the next generation, Wi-Fi 7, within the IEEE 802.11be Extremely High Throughput (EHT) working group.
Wi-Fi 7 has ambitious goals and must meet tight requirements to meet our increasing connectivity needs. The IEEE has still a lot of work ahead and plans to approve and publish the 802.11be amendment by mid-2024, and we expect to see commercial equipment by that same time, along with a certification program by the Wi-Fi Alliance to ensure interoperability.
While Wi-Fi 7 is not yet here and many of the new features are still being defined, the progress toward the new standard shows us the trajectory of Wi-Fi’s technological evolution – where Wi-Fi is heading, what we can expect from it, and what the pace of change will be. Wi‑Fi 6 marked a great step forward from Wi‑Fi 5. The table below shows the pattern of Wi-Fi evolution. Wi-Fi 6 improvements went well beyond the increase in throughput. It fundamentally changes how Wi-Fi transmits and manages traffic and this improves the overall quality, reliability and security of the technology.
Wi-Fi 7 will take Wi-Fi further ahead in the same direction. It will still use OFDMA, but it will enhance it to make it more flexible and efficient, and with the added option to use 4096-QAM. MU-MIMO will support 16 spatial streams, up from 8 in Wi-Fi 6. The maximum channel size (320 MHz) is doubled and makes Wi-Fi 7 ideally suited to benefiting from access to the 6 GHz band, the most recent band added for unlicensed use and supported by Wi-Fi 6E. The new features of Wi‑Fi 7 bring a huge increase in the maximum data rate – 46 Gbps, although higher data rates may be achieved in some environments and configurations. Wi-Fi 7 will also bring lower latency, as well as increased flexibility in using network and spectrum resources.
The performance and efficiency improvements that Wi-Fi 7 promises are impressive, but do we need them? Isn’t Wi-Fi 6 good enough? The specifications for Wi-Fi 7 are based on the anticipation of an increased adoption of use cases with strict latency and reliability requirements. Wi-Fi 6 meets the demand for these use cases today, but Wi-Fi 7 enhancements will allow Wi-Fi to scale as adoption – and hence traffic density – grows and as requirements become more stringent. Wi-Fi 7 provides a forward path to ensure that Wi-Fi retains the scalability to carry increasing traffic loads and continues to meet users’ requirements.
Wi-Fi 7 brings more flexibility and capabilities to enterprises as they embark in the digital transformation. Wi-Fi 7 and 3GPP-based 5G will work together to introduce edge computing, distributed and cloud architectures, virtualization and digitalization in the emerging private wireless networks (PWN). More specifically, Wi-Fi 7 will improve support for applications that require deterministic latency, high reliability and quality of service (QoS).
In the enterprise, this will benefit IoT and IIoT applications, such as industrial automation, surveillance, remote control, AV/VR and other video-based applications. Consumer users can benefit from Wi-Fi 7 for gaming, AV/VR and video applications, and for smart-home services.
Beyond specific use cases, Wi-Fi 7 will continue to expand the availability of Wi-Fi and to transport most of the wireless traffic in enterprise, public and residential environments, in a cost-effective way and further improving the efficiency in using precious spectrum resources.