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This week, Qualcomm announced a new series of Wi-Fi 7 enterprise access points, Wi-Fi mesh, carrier gateways and high-performance routers. This collection of products brings connection speeds of 10GBps to a many enterprise and home applications. Currently, these products are available only for sampling to existing global development partners. They will be commercially available within a short time. 

Known as the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series, Generation 3, the various products include anywhere from six to 16 streams as well as 320MHz channel support, up to 33GBps of wireless interface capacity and peak throughputs over 10GBps. They’re optimized for multi-user environments via network acceleration and low CPU utilization to power enterprise use cases such as collaboration, telepresence, extended reality (known as XR – a combination of virtual and augmented reality), metaverse and immersive gaming applications. 

In addition, these Qualcomm Networking Pro Series platforms are supported by Qualcomm Technologies’ turnkey service for automated frequency control (AFC). AFC enables the highest performance possible in the 6GHz spectrum band, the company says. AFC awaits regulatory approval, but is currently available for customer device integration prior to commercial availability. 

“Building upon strong Wi-Fi 6/6E momentum, Qualcomm Technologies’ Wi-Fi 7 capable third-generation Networking Pro series platform delivers record wireless capacity and throughput performance, taking the Wi-Fi infrastructure across homes and enterprises to the next level,” said Neil Shah, research vice president at Counterpoint Research. “This platform thus helps deliver immersive and content-rich wireless experiences even in constrained environments not possible earlier.” 

What will Wi-Fi 7 ultimately mean for enterprise technical decision-makers who are constructing local private networks? In the enterprise space, Wi-Fi networks have already been enjoying success for certain use cases. Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E set the stage, with more than 2 billion Wi-Fi 6 device shipments delivered by the end of 2021, according to analyst firm International Data Corp. (IDC). 

Since its release in 2018, Wi-Fi 6 now accounts for more than 50% of all Wi-Fi shipments. IDC predicts that 5.2 billion Wi-Fi 6 and 6E devices will be shipped by 2025. 

Wi-Fi 6 introduced multi-user features to improve Wi-Fi performance in densely populated networks. In 2020, Wi-Fi 6E expanded those capabilities into the 6GHz spectrum band. This enabled more and wider channels to handle higher speed and lower latency demands. As a result, enterprise routers now covered a wider area and higher speed access for demanding applications.

Source: IDC 2020

Wi-Fi 7 ramps up the performance, capacity and latency gains even higher. Innovation within the enterprise data stack will take advantage of these benefits and open the door to new enterprise use cases. 

“Wi-Fi 7 capabilities, together with 5G, enable edge computing and higher-order digitalization for emerging private networks,” said Nick Kucharewski, senior vice president and general manager, Wireless Infrastructure and Networking at Qualcomm. “Private network deployments look for deterministic latency and a high amount of reliability and Quality of Service – all of which Wi-Fi 7 is able to deliver significantly better than previous generations. This gives enterprise decision-makers an opportunity to deploy a best-in-class wireless network needed for a private wireless network.” 

Evolving data strategies 

Kucharewski also noted that the speed increase and improved latency determinism makes Wi-Fi applicable to more emerging enterprise applications.

Major opportunities exist, for example, in fields such as analytics and simulation. The more capacity and throughput that can be supplied over Wi-Fi, the more real-time applications can become. Real-time has been hyped for some time. But the reality is that most applications are, at best, near real time. Wi-Fi 7 can narrow the gap. 

With edge computing gathering momentum and areas such as self-driving vehicles requiring vast amounts of performance with minimal latency, it becomes possible to fuel analytics engines with the data they thirst for. No more sending all the data back to headquarters. 

Edge devices suddenly become able to affordably process data at a great many locations. Traffic-based artificial intelligence (AI) systems can feed vehicle, road conditions and other data to an edge server or switch for instant processing and analysis, with instructions relayed immediately to vehicle-based systems. 

In simulation, too, much stronger Wi-Fi facilitates simulation in the field. Large data sets being gathered in real-time can be married up with historical data fed from a central location to provide conclusions now to engineers deciding whether to drill or not. 

“Wi-Fi 7 delivers huge potential benefits to the enterprise such as the use of wider channels (320MHz) to boost the overall capacity a network can deliver to hundreds of potential devices being managed,” Kucharewski said. “The use of key features like Multi-Link can offer more deterministic latency (in addition to throughput) profiles to enable on-demand two-way video and better AR/VR experiences.”

In augmented reality (AR), applications have gradually been hitting the market that add more features — and consequently, need better bandwidth and lower latency. For example, various goggles and glasses can be purchased that offer field technicians, maintenance personnel and other hands-on workers access to online experts, documentation and maintenance checklists in real time. 

This bonanza of information is transmitted onto the goggles where the individual in the field or on the shop floor can view data, imagery and instructions as they perform their duties. Some systems interpose a digital view of a specific piece of equipment over the top of the physical equipment. As the worker moves around, the view shifts to align with it. This helps less-skilled workers verify they are checking the correct valve or installing the right part at the proper location. 

It’s all about connections

Further AR features include video feeds and direct connection to remote experts who can walk the person through a more complex procedure or perform remote apprenticeship actions. Immersive and realistic XR and AR experiences require exceptionally high-quality video with very high refresh rates that demand very high speeds and bandwidth. Wi-Fi 7 gets things ever closer to that standard. And it has the capacity to cope with many simultaneous users.

Such advanced features are only as good as the connection provided. If someone in a large factory has spotty connectivity, the likelihood is that expensive maintenance Google searches will eventually be discarded. Wi-Fi 7 access points spread around the factory should provide sufficient coverage, capacity and performance to avoid such issues. And there will be far fewer access points needed compared to earlier generations. 

There are plenty of other potential enterprise use cases. Collaboration platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have come a long way over the past two years.  But connectivity is not always the best and dropped connections occasionally happen. Wi-Fi 7 products such as the Qualcomm Networking Pro 1620 platform can deliver up to 33GBps of capacity, with single connection speed (between a single device and the access point) of up to 10+GBps. 

This makes it feasible to add more bells and whistles to the workforce collaboration ecosystem. The low latency and bandwidth that Wi-Fi 7 can provide, even in dense, high-traffic scenarios, will likely become vital for a great many business-critical applications. High-traffic use cases like offices, entertainment venues, sports arenas and others will be among the beneficiaries. 

Wi-Fi 7 brings performance

Wi-Fi has thrown off the chains of legacy 2.4GHz connectivity that had only three narrow bandwidth channels. In rapid order, innovation pushed it up to 5GHz with additional spectrum and wider 160MHz channels and now to the 6GHz band allocation (with up to 1200MHz of spectrum in some regions). 

This shift couldn’t have come a moment sooner. Increased congestion at 2.4GHz due to the growing use of Bluetooth and Thread is driving further change, making those channels more susceptible to Wi-Fi hiccups. Moving up to 5 and 6GHz delivers the required performance and frees up the lower band for better-suited applications such as IoT and devices operating at the edge of Wi-Fi networks.

Specific improvements within Wi-Fi 7 

Multi-link technology to lower latency and congestion: Wi-Fi 7 generally offers either two channels in the 5GHz band or one each in the 5 and 6GHz band. This multi-link capability enables alternation between bands – the device uses the first available band for data transfers. Result: congestion avoided on links and lowered latency. There is also the High Band Simultaneous Multi-Link option; i.e., each band is utilized as it becomes available and both can be operated simultaneously for a data stream for aggregated throughput. 

Fig. 1 - Alternating Multi-Link, where the device alternates between the available bands to lower latency.
Multi-Link technology means a device can alternate between the available bands to lower latency.

Wider channels: Wi-Fi 6E made multiple 160MHz channels available in any region possessing a 6GHz spectrum allocation. Wi-Fi 7 doubles the possible channel bandwidth to 320MHz, giving a major boost to data speeds and capacity. But this isn’t available yet to everyone. Some regions can support as many as three channels of 320MHz contiguous spectrum. Others only have one and some don’t yet have any. In addition, Wi-Fi 7’s “preamble puncturing” feature blanks an interfering spectrum while still making the contiguous channel possible. The overall bandwidth is lowered to a small degree if this feature is in action but it still enables a wider channel than otherwise would be available. This is especially handy if a neighboring network is competing for airtime in the same spectrum/channels that an enterprise might want to leverage.

Work-from-home productivity

The added features and performance of Wi-Fi 7 will be a boon to the work-from-home brigade, too. Enterprises, or individual workers using a home office, can buy Wi-Fi 7-enabled routers to strengthen home office Wi-Fi capabilities to smooth out the many wrinkles and kinks that are commonplace in remote work collaboration. 

“Wi-Fi 7 is coming at the right time when the industry is ready for its next phase with new experiences and new architectures that demand extreme performance,” said Prakash Sangam, founder and principal at Tantra Analyst.

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