How the increased adoption of Wi-Fi 7 in the workplace will improve day-to-day operations

How the increased adoption of Wi-Fi 7 in the workplace will improve day-to-day operations

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 7 at the start of 2024, which marks the starting point for the adoption of Wi-Fi 7 among both consumers and businesses. David Coleman, Director of Wireless Networking at the Office of the CTO, Extreme Networks, explores why we’re seeing increased adoption of Wi-Fi 7, especially in the workplace, and how exactly it’ll improve day-to-day business.

While numerous businesses are beginning to tap into the potential of the 6 GHz wireless spectrum unleashed by Wi-Fi 6E, the Wi-Fi Alliance has already propelled us further into the future with the announcement of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 7 at the outset of 2024. Boasting even more remarkable capabilities, the announcement marks the starting point for the adoption of Wi-Fi 7 among both consumers and businesses. And with an increasing number of Wi-Fi 7 devices becoming available (such as the Google Pixel 8), the race is already underway.

So, let’s answer a few FAQs.

What’s so special about Wi-Fi 7, and how will it improve our day-to-day working lives? What about cellular networks such as the new 5G? And is it worth upgrading if you’ve already installed Wi-Fi 6 and 6E? After all, you could bide your time and wait for Wi-Fi 8…

What’s so special about Wi-Fi 7?

Before we get into Wi-Fi 7, let’s establish some context by taking a quick look at the two preceding versions and how they improved our networks.

Wi-Fi 6: The critical upgrade for Wi-Fi 6 was a multi-user technology called OFDMA, akin to a sophisticated traffic management system for highways, optimising the flow and reducing congestion, thus enhancing the efficiency of crowded Wi-Fi environments.

Wi-Fi 6E: While OFDMA remains a standout feature, its significance dims in comparison to the paradigm shift that begins with Wi-Fi 6E. This Wi-Fi generation is recognised as a landmark in Wi-Fi history for ushering in the ‘era of 6 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity’. Opening up this pristine ‘spectrum superhighway’ significantly expanded the capacity of wireless networks and set the groundwork for future Wi-Fi generations, including Wi-Fi 7 and 8.

Nonetheless, the industry is continually working to enhance Wi-Fi, focusing on quality of service improvements, particularly in reducing latency.

Wi-Fi 7: Cue the star of today’s show. Wi-Fi 7 excels at producing low-latency connections, mainly because of a technique known as Multi-Link Operation (MLO).

MLO, unique to Wi-Fi 7, enables rapid switching between two different bands. For example, a client device simultaneously monitors the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands. When it needs to transmit data, it selects the band with less congestion and higher availability, significantly improving latency.

Other new Wi-Fi 7 features include:
• 4K QAM: Packs 20% more data into each signal, accelerating your connection and improving data transmission rates.
• 320 MHz channels: Just as wider lanes on a highway can accommodate more cars at once, allowing for smoother and faster traffic flow, 320 MHz channels can carry more data simultaneously, resulting in faster internet speeds and increased data throughput.
• Preamble puncturing: Similar to express lanes on a highway that allow you to bypass sections slowed down by construction or accidents. In Wi-Fi, it acts similarly by enabling signals to skip parts of the channel prone to interference, ensuring a quicker and more stable data flow.
• 512 compressed block-ack: Improves efficiency and reduces transmission overhead.
• Triggered uplink access: Fine-tunes triggered uplink access to support latency-sensitive streams (think gaming and video) and meet Quality of Service (QoS) demands.
• Emergency preparedness communication services (EPCS): During emergencies, Wi-Fi networks will prioritise official communications, keeping those channels clear and reliable.

Why are businesses so keen?

According to The Annual Industry Report 2023, over half of enterprises, service providers and technology vendors had already adopted Wi-Fi 6 in 2023. An additional 44% said they were working to adopt Wi-Fi 6E in the next 12-18 months, and a further 33% of those respondents said they already had plans to deploy Wi-Fi 7 by the end of 2024.

However, this was before the January 2024 announcement of the Wi-Fi 7 certification.
The somewhat sudden certification and the expected arrival of more than 233 million devices in 2024 (increasing to 2.1 billion by 2028) have combined to create unprecedented momentum, further fuelling the market’s appetite for a network infrastructure to support its data-intensive, low-latency applications, devices and use cases.

This is further compounded by the market’s renewed focus on the quality of experience (QoE). In the abovementioned report, 90% of service providers, equipment manufacturers and enterprises ranked QoE for end-users as a key differentiator in monetising their Wi-Fi services.

To say that Wi-Fi 7 is driving technological development and innovation is no understatement, either. The transition to the promised land of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Industry 4.0 has long been stuck in third gear due to insufficient network infrastructures, but with Wi-Fi 7, it’s likely that will change.

But what about 5G?

Wi-Fi isn’t the only network technology making strides, public 5G and private 5G have long been hyped by marketing teams across the technology industry. At first, some even predicted this next-generation cellular would replace Wi-Fi altogether. But with the emergence of Wi-Fi 6E and 7, things have changed.
The reality is that neither will replace the other.

Both technologies have different strengths and weaknesses, and 70% of the 2023 Annual Industry Report’s respondents said that Wi-Fi and 5G must coexist to create a seamless user experience. In other words, enterprises, service providers and manufacturers already know that their smart buildings and other use cases will need a converged environment to succeed.

The takeaway?

Wi-Fi has revolutionised how our society communicates and operates for the last two and a half decades. It is, without a doubt, the foremost technology for daily connectivity. And we are still at the very start of the 6 GHz era, heralded by Wi-Fi 6E and the availability of the 6 GHz frequency band. Wi-Fi has become a way of life, and 6 GHz is our latest avenue for seamless and secure Wi-Fi user experiences.

Wi-Fi 7 represents the next phase in the evolution that will further propel the new era of 6 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity. The move to 6 GHz signifies more than an incremental upgrade; it is a leap into a realm where speed, capacity and reliability converge to meet the insatiable demands of our digital world.

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