Wi-Fi 7 is already on the way


Wi-Fi 6 is just now arriving in phones, laptops and network equipment. But engineers are already turning their attention to what’ll come next: Wi-Fi 7. With speeds as high as 30 gigabits per second, the next generation of Wi-Fi promises better streaming video, longer range and fewer problems with traffic congestion. The change will come in a series of steps, beginning with improvements to Wi-Fi 6, that lay the groundwork for the expected arrival of Wi-Fi 7 in 2024.
I’m excited about delivering a gigabit everywhere in your house, every nook and cranny, said V.K. Jones, Qualcomm’s vice president of technology. You’ll be at the point where wireless is faster than wired. In a talk and subsequent interview at Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi Day in August, Jones shared some details on how Wi-Fi 7 will work. He expects three phases of improvements over today’s Wi-Fi 6, which in technical circles is called 802.11ax.
The first expected improvement will give Wi-Fi 6 more capacity, with new airwaves that US and European governments are likely to open up for radio transmission as soon as next year. Second, an update to Wi-Fi 6 in 2022 should improve its speeds, especially for people uploading data like videos from phones or PCs. Third, and perhaps most interesting, is a collection of Wi-Fi upgrades expected in 2024 and still known only by its technical name of 802.11be.
Nobody’s quite ready to officially call that new version Wi-Fi 7. That includes the Wi-Fi Alliance, the consortium that comes up with the numbers and bestows its Wi-Fi logo on products that pass its certification tests. Heck, its program to certify Wi-Fi 6 products only begins later this year. Still, you don’t have to be a soothsayer to see this future. The last three Wi-Fi engineering standards — IEEE 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax — have been certified as Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6, respectively.
So 802.11be is a strong candidate to receive the Wi-Fi 7 label.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which develops the 802.11 standards that the Wi-Fi Alliance later certifies, is already at work on 802.11be. It’s the IEEE working group that proposed the 30Gbps speed in its project authorization request. For comparison, CNET’s tests so far have shown Wi-Fi 6 delivering a maximum of 1.3Gbps. The working group also seeks to reduce communication delays to improve performance for latency-sensitive activities like gaming.
The first big change is likely to come from governmental largesse. Today’s Wi-Fi uses two radio frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The US and Europe, though, are working on releasing a huge new swath at 6GHz. This is very juicy real estate, Jones said of the new spectrum, predicting that it’ll quadruple speeds when you’re at work or watching a game in a stadium.

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