Wi-Fi 7 is coming, and Intel makes it sound great

The next generation of Wi-Fi is at least three years off, but Intel predicts it will be up to five times faster

Wi-Fi has been with us since 1997, predating Google, the iPhone, and robotic vacuum cleaners. It’s basically a legacy technology!

Despite its maturity, Wi-Fi is always evolving to meet the needs of consumers and enterprises. There have been eight versions of the Wi-Fi network protocol, with the latest (Wi-Fi 6 or, to use its “street name,” 802.11ax) being released in 2019. Each iteration has been faster and more reliable than its predecessor, a comforting trend. Three-and-a-half generations (Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6 and 6E) currently are in use.

So when can we expect to see Wi-Fi 7? And how much more awesome will it be than Wi-Fi 6? The folks at Intel have definite opinions about this, which you can hear all about in the webinar linked at the end of this post.

First, though, let’s consider how critical Wi-Fi has become to networking. More than half (51%) of total IP traffic will come through Wi-Fi by 2022, Cisco predicts. That’s up from 43% in 2017. Cisco made that prediction before the pandemic; I suspect the huge increase in remote working will push that 51% closer to 60% or even higher. Remember, many millions of workers will not return to an office. They’re permanently remote, and most of them opt for the convenience and mobility of Wi-Fi when doing their jobs at home.

Add in the growing number of connected devices--the Internet of Things (IoT)--that need the kind of high bandwidth and low latency that Wi-Fi offers, and it’s clear that digital enterprises would be crippled without Wi-Fi. That is, Wi-Fi capable of handling exponentially greater levels of data and traffic.

Which, just to set the record straight, Wi-Fi 6 most assuredly does. As Dr. Carlos Cordeiro, CTO of Wireless Connectivity at Intel said during the webinar, Wi-Fi 6 “provides four times greater scalability,” better security with WPA3, better interference management with new technologies around OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) and “up to 75% improvements in latency."

Scalability, security, speed: Wi-Fi 6 has got it goin’ on! But there’s always room for improvement, is there not? And that’s where Wi-Fi 7 comes in. A standard for it is already in the works at the IEEE, and is known as P802.11be.

As to when it will come in, Cordeiro says in another Intel video that Wi-Fi 7 could be just three years away, which would be way ahead of the six-year pattern for new generations of Wi-Fi.

In describing 802.11be, Cordeiro also says Wi-Fi 7 will be up to five times faster than Wi-Fi 6. However, the big upgrade will come from something called Multi-Link Operation (MLO), in which devices can run on multiple channels simultaneously. “MLO provides higher throughput, lower latency and/or higher reliability, which are useful to a number of applications from VR/AR to industrial IoT,” according to an Intel slideshow on Wi-Fi 7. And it could support maximum aggregate data rates that are 7.2 times those achievable with Wi-Fi 6.

Wi-Fi 7 could also include coordination features among the access points to help users reach performance goals for their wireless networks.

Monica Paolini, founder and principal at wireless-technology, analyst, and consulting firm Senza Fili, told Intel webinar attendees that Wi-Fi 7 will be versatile. “There’s going to be more capacity, again, support for up to 7 gigahertz – and also for the lower bands as well where you could have some IoT applications like sensors that require less bandwidth,” Paolini said. “So it's a completely different type of use for Wi-Fi.”

The improvements in latency and jitter, she said, “make the network more deterministic.”

“The farther you have lower latency and jitter combined makes the network much more predictable,” Paolini said. “You know exactly what you should expect from the network. And that's really important for a lot of industrial applications, IoT applications.”

Reliability and predictability are highly valued in any enterprise network. Wi-Fi 7 sounds like just what enterprises need to run their burgeoning networks of connected devices and remote workers. It’ll be great when it gets here, but let’s enjoy Wi-Fi 6 while we can.

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