The WiFi 6 standard was just approved in 2020 and is starting to find its way into home and business WiFi networks. If you’ve purchased a new WiFi router recently, there is a decent chance that it can support WiFi 6. However, the benefits of the new WiFi aren’t going to benefit a home until you’ve upgraded devices like TVs, computers, and various IoT devices to use the new standard. It’s likely to take years for WiFi 6 to get fully integrated into most homes.
But that hasn’t stopped vendors from already working on the next generation of WiFi technology, naturally being called WiFi 7. WiFi 7 promises faster speeds and lower latency and will be aimed at maximizing video performance. Qualcomm says it expects full WiFi 7 to become available after 2024. WiFi 7 will be using the new WiFi specification 802.11be.
The speed capabilities have climbed with each subsequent generation of WiFi. WiFi 5, which most of you are running in your home today has a maximum speed capability of 3.5 Gbps. WiFi 6 stepped maximum speeds up to 9.6 Gbps. The early specifications for WiFi 7 call for maximum data speeds of 30 Gbps. While most of us will never tax the capabilities of WiFi 5, faster speeds are important because it means a WiFi signal can burst huge amounts of data in a short period of time.
WiFi 7 isn’t going to require additional WiFi spectrum – but more spectrum helps. The federal Court of Appeaks for Washington DC just recently confirmed the FCC’s allocation of 6 GHz spectrum for WiFi use. The NCTA, representing the big cable companies, recently filed a request with the FCC asking the agency to consider opening additional new bands of free public spectrum for WiFi using 7 GHz spectrum and lower 3 GHz spectrum. The trade group argues that WiFi has created the largest public benefit of any spectrum band that FCC has ever authorized. The trade association argues that the world is finally becoming awash in Internet of Things devices, with Charter alone connecting to half a billion IoT devices.
There are two big changes that will differentiate WiFi 7 from WiFi 6. First is a major upgrade to the WiFi upload link. WiFi 7 will incorporate uplink multiuser multiple-input multiple-output (UL MU-MIMO) technology. The new technology creates multiple paths between a router and a WiFi-connected device. Connecting multiple paths to a device will significantly increase the amount of data that can be transmitted in a short period of time. WiFi 6 allows for a theoretical eight simultaneous paths – WiFi 7 increases that to sixteen paths.
WiFi 7 will also bring another improvement labeled as coordinated multiuser MMO (CMU-MIMO). CMU-MIMO will let a home device connect to more than one WiFi router at the same time. Picture your computer connected to several channels from different home routers. This coordination should result in faster connections, lower latency, and the ability to deliver high bandwidth to every corner of a home that is equipped with multiple WiFi access points. This is the most complicated challenge in the WiFi 7 specification.
WiFi 7 promises other improvements as well. The 802.11be specification allows for combining spectrum paths. Today’s WiFi routers use one channel of spectrum for a single device, and the planned upgrade would allow devices to combine signal paths from different WiFi frequencies at the same time. Another slated improvement is an upgrade to allow the use of 4096-QAM. The QAM technology will allow the combination of more than one frequency modulation in the same data path.
The 801.11be specification is pushing the limits of physics in a few places and may never fully achieve everything being promised. But it represents another huge upgrade for WiFi. There are a few vendors that will be previewing early versions of WiFi 7 technology at CES 2022. Maybe most of us will at least have made the transition to WiFi 6 before this latest and greatest WiFi is available.