The latest generation of Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax), which launched in the fall of 2019 and is now inching into the commercial market at a steady pace. In addition, we will soon be seeing Wi-Fi 6E, the first amendment of IEEE 802.11ax to support the state-of-the-art 6 GHz radio spectrum band. Even with all this new technology in the works, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—which develops Wi-Fi engineering standards—and the Wi-Fi Alliance—which certifies Wi-Fi technology—are in the process of planning for the prospect of Wi-Fi 7 (IEEE 802.11be).
According to the IEEE:
While customers rivet their eyes on Wi-Fi 6, in the bowels of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group that creates Wi-Fi standards, the next generation Wi-Fi is being developed. At the very first sight, the new IEEE 802.11be amendment to the Wi-Fi standard is nothing but scaled 11ax with doubled bandwidth and the increased number of spatial streams, which together provide data rates as high as 40 Gbps.
A bit deeper dive into the 802.11 activities reveals that 11be will support real-time applications. In reality, 11be introduces many more revolutionary changes to Wi-Fi, which will form a basement for further Wi-Fi evolution.
Although by now (May 2020), the development process is at the very early phase without any draft specification, the analysis of the discussion in the 802.11 Working Group gives insights into the main innovations of 11be. In addition to the ones above, they include native multi-link operation, channel sounding optimization that opens the door for massive MIMO, advanced PHY and MAC techniques, the cooperation of various access points.
The Basics of Wi-Fi 7
First, it is important to note that the Wi-Fi Alliance recently simplified the naming protocol of the mainstream Wi-Fi standards as follows:
- 802.11n: Wi-Fi 4
- 802.11ac: Wi-Fi 5
- 802.11ax: Wi-Fi 6
- 802.11be: Wi-Fi 7
The IEEE formed the IEEE 802.11be Extremely High Throughput (EHT) Working Group in the fall of 2018. They have ambitious goals and must meet stiff requirements that meet ever-changing connectivity needs.
For Wi-Fi to remain a leading connectivity technology, it is vital to continually improve the user experience by enhancing performance, increasing spectrum efficiency, and reducing costs. These are the goals of Wi-Fi 7. The IEEE has much work to do to approve and publish 802.11be by their projected date of mid-2024.
Let’s take a look at where Wi-Fi is heading.
Projected Wi-Fi 7 Enhancements
It is common practice to begin developing future wireless technologies at the same time the latest standard emerges into the marketplace. Wi-Fi 6 is on the verge, so it is time to look to the future—to Wi-Fi 7.
Following are the most significant improvements that Wi-Fi 7 is projected to offer.
The newly emerging Wi-Fi 6 technology is 40 percent faster than the current mainstream Wi-Fi 5 wireless transmission standard. Wi-Fi 6 introduced the multi-user, multiple-output (MU-MIMO) that supports eight data streams to work simultaneously.
Wi-Fi 7 intends to introduce the coordinated multiuser MIMO (CMU-MIMO), which will support up to 16 data streams on all three frequencies (.i.e., 2.4 GHz, 5GHz, and 6 GHz) at the same time.
Multi-link Operation (MLO) enables devices to simultaneously transmit and receive across different bands and channels. Wi-Fi 7 seeks to enhance these links by increasing throughput, which is the measurement data between devices in a local network (LAN). MLO will also lower latency (network.server time), and improve reliability.
The Wi-Fi 7 Working Group is aiming to improve wireless access point (AP) coordination. This type of enhancement may include the following:
- Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMAN)
- Spatial reuse (SR)
- Time-division multiple access (TDMA)
- Beamforming (BF)
- Joint processing (JT)
This type of upgrade could reduce the number of collisions currently experienced with Wi-Fi 6.
The ability to utilize more radio spectrum should mean more speed. Wi-Fi 7 will double the maximum channel size from 160 megahertz (MHz) supported by Wi-Fi 6 to 320MHz. This means the throughput will also be doubled.
Wi-Fi 7 will also support 160+160MHz, 240+180MHZ, and 160+80MHz channels to combine non-contiguous spectrum blocks.
Most wireless networks use Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). This technology consists of a signal in which two carriers are modulated and combined into a single channel. Wi-Fi 5 standards support 256-QAM, while Wi-Fi 6 standards support 1024-QAM, which carries around 25 percent more raw data. It is anticipated that Wi-Fi 7 will support 4096-QAM which will increase throughput by an additional 20 percent.
Wi-Fi 6 introduced Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). This technology enables multiple users with differing bandwidth requirements to connect to a single AP at the same time. Wi-Fi 7 will continue the use of OFDMA but with increased flexibility. The enhanced OFDMA version will allow the assignment of punctured resource units (RUs) to a single station (STA) and will also support direct link transmissions. These improvements will increase spectrum efficiency and reduce latency, improving the overall user experience.
Many of the enhancements/changes listed above (i.e., MLO, multi-AP, wider channels) will further decrease latency. In addition, latency will be less variable and more predictable.
Wi-Fi 7 promises to be chock full of new capabilities and exciting enhancements that allow for more flexibility and efficiency to all entities that wish to embark on the digital transformation. Simply put: Wi-Fi will become better. There is a bright future ahead for:
- Video streaming
- Video/voice conferencing
- Wireless gaming
- Real-time collaboration
- Cloud/edge computing
- Industrial IoT
- Immersive AR/VR
- Interactive telemedicine
For a more in-depth look at Wi-Fi 7, look here.