Inside the Wi-Fi 7 Standard: Growth and Business Importance

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala, Author at eWEEK.

Extreme’s David Coleman discusses the new wireless standard and which companies should adopt it.

I discussed the upcoming release of Wi-Fi 7 in my latest ZKast with David Coleman, Director of Wireless at the Office of the CTO 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. Highlights of the ZKast interview, done in conjunction with eWEEK eSPEAKS, are below.

The Enterprise Wi-Fi Market

The importance of Wi-Fi in society today can’t be overstated. Technically, it’s the access technology that connects devices to corporate and home networks, enabling fast and easy access to the Internet.

In the early days, Wi-Fi was used primarily by consumers at home and then made its way to the enterprise. Today, the technology has matured enough to be used in every vertical industry and has become the foundation for digital experiences – many of which start on mobile devices.

Over the years, Wi-Fi generations have evolved (and improved) to include new capabilities like faster speeds, less bandwidth congestion, and better 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.

Despite Wi-Fi 6E being a fairly new standard, there’s an even newer standard on the horizon: Wi-Fi 7. As was the case with previous generations, Wi-Fi 7 promises major improvements over Wi-Fi 6 and 6E.

Interview and Highlights

See 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 that’s responsible for certifying interoperability between devices based on the standard. While the Wi-Fi Alliance announced plans to have a certification for Wi-Fi 7, the official date hasn’t been released. Like previous standards, Wi-Fi 7 will be backward compatible and coexist with legacy devices in the 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz bands.
  • Wi-Fi 7 builds on Wi-Fi 6E by utilizing the 6 GHz band and increasing throughput even more. The new standard focuses on physical (PHY) and medium access control (MAC), capable of supporting a maximum throughput of at least 30 gigabits per second (Gbps). It can potentially reduce latency and jitter for time-sensitive apps like augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), 4K and 8K video streaming, as well as mission critical and industrial apps.
  • Wi-Fi 7 is expected to enable new enterprise-grade services like multi-link operation (MLO), where multiple Wi-Fi links could be used to lower latency, increase reliability, and boost throughput. Theoretically, Wi-Fi 7 will cover three channels in all three bands. A Wi-Fi 7 client and Wi-Fi 7 access point (AP) could transmit on different channels in different bands through link steering. This could potentially provide high throughput and backhaul links, offering the most value for the enterprise.
  • Another unique feature of Wi-Fi 7 is 4K QAM modulation, which boosts peak rates and increases throughput/capacity compared to Wi-Fi systems using 1K QAM modulation. These complex modulation methods require a pristine radio frequency (RF) environment and higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Wi-Fi 5 required an SNR of about 25 decibels (dB) and Wi-Fi 6 required about 32 dB. Now with the 4K QAM modulation, there needs to be an SNR of about 41 to 42 dB, which is difficult to achieve in 5 GHz.
  • Wi-Fi 7 also supports the ultra-wide 320 megahertz (MHz) channel, which has a throughput that’s four times greater than 80 MHz and two times greater than 160 MHz. The bigger the channel, the more data it can modulate. While it sounds great in theory, this doesn’t scale in the enterprise. With multiple APs in use, enterprises are likely to experience channel interference.
  • Most of the hype around Wi-Fi 7 is its ability to provide 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 advantage of the 6 GHz band. Wi-Fi 7 can potentially reach 33 Gbps, although it’s not likely. Realistically, it’s going to be less than that 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 incorporated into future products. The first Wi-Fi 7 consumer-grade home routers are likely to launch between March and May of this year. Enterprise-grade products are expected to follow, probably in the first half of 2024. None of these products are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance since there isn’t yet a certification.
  • Any company that’s currently in a refresh cycle should be thinking beyond Wi-Fi 6. Those who aren’t planning another refresh for five to six years will have no path to 6 GHz. Moving to Wi-Fi 6E now will ensure access to the 6 GHz superhighway of spectrum. Yet, organizations that recently deployed Wi-Fi 6E aren’t likely to upgrade to Wi-Fi 7 right away. 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 the promise of faster speeds provided by Wi-Fi 7, organizations should primarily focus on their individual use cases and enhancing the wireless user experience.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.