WiFi6 or 802.11ax is well into its widespread adoption in enterprise and consumer products. At the same time the work for WiFi7 or 802.11be has already started. The IEEE 802.11 working group has the first meeting scheduled in May 2021 and a projected finalized amendment for May 2024.
WiFi6’s focus was on improving spectrum efficiency utilization by introducing new capatilibies such as MU-OFDMA and 1024-QAM, but also security with WPA3 and power consumption with the Target Wake Time mechanism. WiFi7 is going to fine tune the existing standard, and build upon them based on the problems is trying to address.
The Needs behind WiFi7
Each new protocol amendment aims to address and set of real-life applications and requirements for WiFi connectivity. Per the 802.11be Working Groups Project Authorization Request, WiFi7’s purpose is to address the following:
- Video streaming: The emergence of 4K and 8K video streaming is creating a need for higher throughput requirements for mobile devices. 8K video stream requires 50 Mbps of throughput, and consumers will soon expect the highest level of video streaming definition on multiple devices in their home and work environment.
- Virtual and augmented reality, gaming, videoconferencing: all these applications require not only high throughput, but also low latency and jitter for a good user experience.
As we can see, the goals for WiFi7 are mostly around improving multimedia user experience, while maintaining improvements introduced by WiFi6 (e.g. better high density support) and backwards compatibility, like all new 802.11 amendments.
WiFi7 New Features
To achieve these requirements, the working group has put together a set of candidate features that are built upon previous versions of the protocol and a set of new ones.
Some of the most important features that will enable
- 320 MHz bandwidth and more efficient utilization of non-contiguous spectrum
- 4096-QAM (4K-QAM)
- Multi-band/multi-channel aggregation and operation
- 16 spatial streams and Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) protocols enhancements
- Multi-Access Point (AP) Coordination (e.g. coordinated and joint transmission)
- Enhanced link adaptation and retransmission protocol (e.g. Hybrid Automatic Repeat Request (HARQ))
- If needed, adaptation to regulatory rules specific to 6 GHz spectrum
The bottom line of these improvements is that the theoretical maximum throughput will be 30 Gbps. In practice, this can be achieved mostly in lab environments under ideal conditions, but pushing the maximum throughput limit increases the average throughput as well.
That is why 802.11be or WiFi7 is also called “Extremely High Throughput”. I am just curious what the superlatives will be for WiFi8, 9, or 10.
The amendment process is projected to take four years, and of course through that period some of these features will be revised and tweaked.
If you want to be up to date with the WiFi7 evolution you should follow the 802.11be working group’s minutes. An excellent breakdown of all current suggested features and the rationale behind them can found in the IEEE article “Current Status and Directions of IEEE 802.11be, the Future Wi-Fi 7.”