The communication industry guarantees that the next Wi-Fi standard is a noteworthy upgrade to the previous standards needed to deal with content-heavy applications operating on devices these days. The pace of development in Wi-Fi is getting faster and better.
While Wi-Fi 6(e) devices are yet to be extensively popularized, the arrangements for implementing seventh-generation Wi-Fi 7 technology have already been made. Before getting adapted to Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 7 devices, let’s first understand these technologies in-depth and then go through their differences.
Image Source: Intel Corporation
Table of Contents
Wi-Fi 6 follows the IEEE 802.11ax specification that was adopted in 2019. That particular standard has been revamped, and Wi-Fi 6-based devices are currently commercially available with that rectified standard.
Note: If you buy something from our links, we might earn a commission. See our disclosure statement.
Wi-Fi 6 technology supports a 40% faster data rate compared to its previous version, i.e., Wi-Fi 5. Moreover, it supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. Note that the Wi-Fi 6E prolongs Wi-Fi use in 6 GHz bands.
Considering the home network hub router, Wi-Fi enables the router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously. It allows the router to transmit data to numerous devices in an identical broadcast.
This makes the interface between intelligent homes smarter and smoother. Since Wi-Fi 6 supports the cutting-edge security protocol, WP3 (which is more challenging for hackers to decipher) significantly improves the Wi-Fi security level.
Wi-Fi 6 provides more efficient data encoding, which results in higher throughput. Specifically, more data is transmitted into the same radio waves. Those chips which encode and decode these signals continue to become powerful and can deal with the additional work.
This novel standard also enhances speeds on 2.4 GHz networks. Though the industry has migrated to 5 GHz Wi-Fi to benefit from less interference, 2.4 GHz is still a better option for penetrating bricks and walls. There might not be as much interference for 2.4 GHz as wireless baby monitors, and conventional cordless telephones are now obsolete.
The noticeable improvement of Wi-Fi 6 is that the QAM modulation accuracy doubles. This makes the speed of a single device significantly faster. The introduction of OFDMA technology allows connecting more devices simultaneously.
Suppose you are using a Wi-Fi router with a single device, then you will observe that maximum potential speeds must be up to 40% higher when used with Wi-Fi 6 compared to Wi-Fi 5.
Usually, Wi-Fi gets bogged down when you are present in a crowded place with plenty of Wi-Fi-enabled devices. This situation happens in public places like hotels, airports, busy stadiums, malls, or overcrowded offices where everybody is connected to Wi-Fi. Consequently, you will experience slow Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi 6 is equipped with several new technologies to overcome these obstacles.
Intel proclaims that Wi-Fi 6 will enhance the average speed of each user by a minimum of four times in congested areas with plenty of connected devices.
This doesn’t only apply to crowded public places but also at home if you have plenty of devices being connected to Wi-Fi or if you are living in a densely populated apartment.
MU-MIMO technology was originally introduced in the 802.11 ac standard, but it has been improved in the 802.11 ax iteration. Specifically, in 802.11 ac, the MU-MIMO technology can be implemented only on downlinks with up to 4 streams in the 5 GHz band.
However, in 802.11 ax, MU-MIMO technology can be applied to both uplink and downlinks between the AP and client stations (with max. 8 streams in either direction). The same applies to both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
The combination of MU-MIMO and Beamforming technologies makes it possible to establish flawless communication with multiple client stations simultaneously through multiple beams.
For that, there will be no interference between the beams. The particular process uses complex channel-sounding techniques to trace a station for beamforming purposes.
Wi-Fi 6 also employs BSS Coloring technology to reduce signal interference between routers. The inspiration for implementing this feature was taken from the BSS coloring scheme used in the 11ah standard.
Note that in 802.11ax, every AP is recognized individually with an identifier known as color, and every client station transmits with that AP associated with that color. It stops the transmission whenever a station intends to communicate, notices the medium, and notices another message with the identical color in the matching channel.
If the transmission is detected from another station with a different color and if it’s lower than a preset signal level, the competing signal would be ignored. Consequently, the station will start its own communication.
BSS Coloring technology can be instrumental in high-density environments with access points being closely packed. Since the stations can ignore communications from other neighboring stations utilizing the same channels, aggressive co-channel transmission limitations are avoided in earlier standards.
The new 802.11 ax standard has the option to transmit data at 1024 QAM data rates (i.e., 10 bits per symbol). The earlier 802.11 ac standard enabled 256 QAM at 8 bits per symbol.
Thus, the 802.11 ax standard provides a 25% increment in throughput. However, transmissions at 1024 QAM would require an extremely clear spectrum and close vicinity of client stations to the 802.11 ax access points.
Target Wake Time (TWT) is a feature that has been developed from 802.11ah “Ha-Low” standard. It assists client stations and APs in negotiating optimal periods for communication. Once the negotiation completes successfully, the clients are awakened by the AP only during the agreed times using a trigger for the particular client.
But at other times, the clients could sleep. Hence, according to existing Wi-Fi standards, they can conserve battery without continuously being awakened by triggers that are not intended for them.
It is anticipated that TWT features significantly assist IOT clients with small data communication requirements. So, they need not wake periodically by triggers not intended for them and can constantly sleep for long periods. In this way, Wi-Fi 6 technology contributes to more power savings.
Wi-Fi 6 can divide a wireless channel into a vast number of subchannels. All these subchannels can carry data that is intended for a different device. The same is achieved via OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access). The Wi-Fi access point can communicate to more devices simultaneously.
With improved MIMO technology, multiple antennas allow the access point to talk and communicate with multiple devices simultaneously.
Wi-Fi 7 (Wi-Fi 7) represents the next-generation Wi-Fi standard yet to be launched. It is alternatively identified as IEEE 802.11be or extremely high throughput (EHT). It will be released in 2024 at the earliest and is termed 802.11be.
Wi-Fi 7 signifies the future of the Wi-Fi standard designed to support real-time applications of the future. Such applications can be wireless gaming, video streaming, edge/cloud computing, telemedicine, industrial IoT, AR/VR, voice/video conferencing, etc.
Depending on Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 7 employs technologies like 4096-quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), 320 MHz bandwidth, multi-resource unit (RU), and enhanced multi-user multiple-input multiple-output (MU-MIMO), multi-link operation (MLO), and multi-access point (AP) coordination. With these advanced technologies, Wi-Fi 7 offers lower latency and a higher data transmission rate than Wi-Fi 6.
With the advancement of WLAN technologies, enterprises and homes rely more on Wi-Fi for network access. In recent years, evolving applications present higher requirements on latency and throughput.
Common examples of such applications include 4K and 8K videos (which involve a transmission rate of up to 20 Gbps), online gaming (needs latency of less than 5 ms), virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR), online video conferencing, remote office, and cloud computing.
The current Wi-Fi standard, i.e., Wi-Fi 6, is incompetent despite its commitment to improving user experience in dense scenarios to meet these high requirements.
Wi-Fi 7 targets to raise the WLAN throughput to 30 Gbps and provide low-latency access assurance. The standard defines modifications to both the physical layer (PHY) and MAC layer to achieve this goal. Compared with Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 7 brings the following technical innovations:
The 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands both are unlicensed spectrums that are congested and limited. When executing content-heavy applications (like AR/VR), the existing Wi-Fi networks unavoidably come across a low quality of service (QoS).
To attain a throughput of up to 30 Gbps, Wi-Fi 7 would support the 6 GHz frequency band and encompass new bandwidth modes (involving contiguous 240 MHz, non-contiguous 160+80 MHz, contiguous 320 MHz, and non-contiguous 160+160 MHz).
After increasing the maximum channel size twice that of Wi-Fi 6 (in 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands, the channel width is up to 160 MHz), we can double the actual performance of the connection.
Wi-Fi 7 permits channels of 160 + 160 MHz, 240 + 80 MHz and 160 + 80MHz as well to combine non-adjacent spectrum blocks. It implies that these don’t need to be contiguous.
The same will be valuable to add channels with minimal use distributed throughout the frequency band in the 5 GHz or 6 GHz band, accessible from the Wi-Fi 6E standard.
1024-QAM is the highest order modulation that Wi-Fi 6 standard supports (in all frequency bands). It permits each modulation symbol to transmit up to 10 bits.
To improve the rate even further, Wi-Fi 7 comes up with 4096-QAM to make sure every modulation symbol can transmit 12 bits. Adopting the same coding, the 4096-QAM in Wi-Fi 7 can increase at a 20% rate compared with 1024-QAM in Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 works on 8 MU-MIMO antennas, whereas Wi-Fi 7 will work on 16 MU-MIMO antennas. So, the performance will be doubled in specific scenarios.
The inclusion of more antennas implies higher speed and signifies more efficient penetration of the Wi-Fi signal. Therefore, having a signal with reduced noise in points near the router makes it possible to modulate to 4096-QAM. This ultimately converts into a significant boost in actual speed.
With more data streams, the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 will support distributed MIMO. So, 16 data streams can be conveyed by multiple access points simultaneously. This suggests that numerous APs have to coordinate with one another. The theoretical physical transmission rate is improved by more than twice that of Wi-Fi 6.
The IEEE 802.11be Task Group (TGbe) was officially established in May 2019 and it is working on the progress of 802.11be (Wi-Fi 7). This latest Wi-Fi standard will be available in Release 1 and Release 2.
The TGbe plans to proclaim Draft 1.0 of 802.11be in 2021, and Release 1 will be made available by the end of 2022. It is anticipated that Release 2 will initiate at the start of 2022 and will be launched at the end of 2024.
In Wi-Fi 6, every user can send/receive frames only on the RUs assigned to them. This significantly limits the flexibility of spectrum resource scheduling. Wi-Fi 7 outlines a mechanism for setting multiple RUs to a single user to solve this issue and enhance the spectrum efficiency even further.
The standard specifications levy some restrictions on the RU combination to balance the spectrum utilization and implementation complexity. It states that small RUs (comprising fewer than 242 tones) can be joined only with small RUs. On the other hand, large RUs (comprising greater than or equal to 242 tones) can be joined only with large RUs. It is possible to combine small RUs and large RUs.
For efficient usage of all available spectrum resources, there is an urgent demand to employ new spectrum management, transmission mechanisms, and coordination on the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz frequency bands.
TGbe terms multi-link aggregation technologies that involve the MAC architecture of enhanced multi-link aggregation, multi-link transmission, and multi-link channel access.
With the help of Multi-link operation MLO, the connected devices can transmit and/or receive simultaneously via various frequency bands and channels (with split-up of control planes and data.
In this way, and due to the parallel links, there will be a boost in device performance, latency reduction, and reliability improvement. Furthermore, those data streams can be allocated to specific links based on the device or program.
In the existing 802.11 protocol framework, coordination between APs is not much. Typical WLAN functions like smart roaming and automatic radio calibration are vendor-defined features.
Multi-AP coordination works on optimizing channel selection and adapts loads between APs to attain efficient utilization and balanced distribution of radio resources.
In Wi-Fi 7, coordinated scheduling among multiple APs incorporates inter-cell coordinated planning in frequency and time domains. Also, it incorporates distributed MIMO and inter-cell interference coordination.
Consequently, it decreases interference between APs and significantly enhances the usage of air interface resources.
Multi-AP coordination can be employed in different methods, namely coordinated orthogonal frequency division multiple access (C-OFDMA), coordinated beamforming (CBF), coordinated spatial reuse (CSR), and joint transmission (JXT).
The latest features introduced by Wi-Fi 7 will considerably enhance the data transmission rate and offer lower latency. These and other features will aid in the development of emerging applications as listed below:
After understanding the features of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7, the question is how Wi-Fi 7 is different from the existing Wi-Fi 6E standard. The below section clarifies the same:
Wi-Fi 7 represents the next-generation connectivity standard, whereas Wi-Fi 6E is the improved version of Wi-Fi 6 equipped to offer reliable performance where there are multiple devices and other Wi-Fi networks connected to the Internet.
Wi-Fi 7 is 40% faster and still provides better energy output.
With Wi-Fi 6E, up to 8 data streams are supported simultaneously with MU-MIMO technology. So, it allows multiple data streams to communicate with the access point.
But Wi-Fi 7 doubles up the count, i.e., it can support up to 16 data streams with CMU-MIMO. (Here, C stands for Coordinated, which means that 16 data streams might not be provided by one access point, but through multiple access points.)
Wi-Fi 6 can use 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands both. Its upgraded version, i.e., Wi-Fi 6E, introduces a new 6 GHz frequency band. Wi-Fi7 introduces a new 6 GHz frequency band, and all three frequency bands (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz) work simultaneously.
Wi-Fi 7 would continue to use this newly introduced frequency band and struggle to achieve the target of using three frequency bands for simultaneous communication. Therefore, Wi-Fi 7 can achieve better communication bandwidth and will also enlarge the width of a single channel (from 160 MHz in Wi-Fi 6 to 320 MHz in Wi-Fi 7).
Wi-Fi 7 will upgrade the signal modulation method to 4096QAM to provide a more extensive data capacity. Wi-Fi 6 standard uses 1024-QAM modulation, but Wi-Fi 7 is anticipated to continue to upgrade the modulation technique directly through 4096-QAM. This idea is to enhance further the transmission data capacity (the max. will be 30 Gbps).
To resolve the issue of network congestion, Wi-Fi 7 relies on multi-link techniques. Currently, Wi-Fi supports three channels (one in the 2.4 GHz band and the other two in the 5 GHz band or one each in the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands for Wi-Fi 6). When Wi-Fi 7 will be introduced, your device will connect to one of them depending on the usage.
With Wi-Fi 7, the maximum data rate will be 30-46 Gbps on a 320 MHz channel (at 6 GHz) and a 160 MHz channel (at 5 GHz) with 16 spatial streams and 4096-QAM. The doubling of the bandwidths of the channels and the spatial flows leads to a performance boost of 4.8 times compared to Wi-Fi 6.
The good news about Wi-Fi 7 is that it would support older frequency ranges up to 6 GHz. Therefore, if you use a router that supports Wi-Fi 6E, then an upgrade is not needed. Your Wi-Fi 6E-enabled router most probably offers support for Wi-Fi 7. This will be possible due to firmware upgrades from the device manufacturer.
Right now, it’s pretty early for the Wi-Fi Alliance to allocate the Wi-Fi 7 moniker to 802.11be. Wi-Fi 7 is IEEE 802.11 be standard under development and expected to release in 2024. Currently, it is in the draft specification stage. If everything goes as planned, we can have the 802.11be standard accepted by 2024.
Immediately after that, the leading manufacturers will unveil their routers and other network equipment. Like any other newly launched feature, the routers and other network equipment supporting Wi-Fi 7 will be pretty expensive. But over time, they would become more affordable for everybody.
The 6 GHz band must be unlicensed in your region to use at its total capacity. This indicates that you can use devices that use Wi-Fi 6E.
Countries like the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia have allocated certain spectrums in the specified band. More countries will be added.
To obtain the maximum benefit of this cutting-edge Wi-Fi standard, you will require an Internet connection that supports such speeds and compatible devices too.
Comments are closed.