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Game-changing WiFi 7 coming to SA in 2023

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 25 Oct 2022

The first iteration of mobile phones, laptops and tablets developed with capability for the next generation of WiFi – WiFi 7 – are expected to make their way to the South African market in 2023.

This was the word from Paul Colmer, exco member of the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA), speaking to ITWeb on the sidelines of the WAPALOZA Conference 2022 held yesterday in Muldersdrift, Gauteng.

Discussing the prospects of WiFi 7 in SA, Colmer pointed out the next evolution of the WiFi network protocol promises to be a substantial upgrade over its predecessor – surpassing the speeds of Ethernet cables, and significantly improving connection reliability and latency over WiFi 6.

While the proliferation of WiFi 7 products is only expected in 2024, given the huge demand for WiFi 6 or 802.11ax products across the globe at the moment, Colmer is of the view that WiFi 7-enabled devices will start trickling in early next year.

While WiFi 6E has a maximum speed of 9.6Gbps, WiFi 7 is expected to have a maximum speed of around 46Gbps – which is a 4X increase over WiFi 6E.

The use of WiFi plays a pivotal role in SA, driven by a growing appetite for data-intensive, low-latency applications, as organisations strengthen their innovation strategies to boost revenues and deploy emerging Web 3.0 technologies.

“We have started to see the first WiFi 7 chipsets being rolled out, and these are used in the manufacturing of mobile devices, and routing equipment and other devices. So at around early 2023, we will see the first devices which operate on WiFi 7 standards coming into the South African market. The majority of the latest cellphones are already enabled for WiFi 6E, which is able to operate in that extra band that will enable WiFi 7,” noted Colmer.

WiFi 7 is expected to benefit every sector in SA, especially those specialising in internet of things (IOT) devices, the hospitality industry, technology service providers and the industrial sector, which heavily relies on monitoring tools, he added.

Paul Colmer, exco member of the Wireless Access Providers Association.
Paul Colmer, exco member of the Wireless Access Providers Association.

According to the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), more than a third (33%) of surveyed telcos, technology providers, vendors and enterprises across the globe are already planning to deploy WiFi 7 by the end of 2023.

The alliance further found that 53% of surveyed organisations have deployed WiFi 6, and an additional 44% said they are looking to adopt WiFi 6E in the next 12-18 months.

“Uptake of WiFi 6E and WiFi 7 will be driven by a growing appetite for data-intensive, low-latency applications and use cases, from smart cities and immersive technologies such as the future metaverse to Industry 4.0,” notes WBA.

Discussing the proliferation of WiFi 6, which is currently the best WiFi technology in the local market, Colmer noted the technology has enjoyed widespread use since it debuted in the country in late 2019/early 2020.

Not only have local businesses benefited from the use of WiFi 6, especially in light of companies introducing work-from-home policies, but consumers are also increasingly relying on the use of smart home devices and IOT applications – with the average South African home estimated to have between 10 and 50 connected devices.

The Deloitte Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications 2022 report predicts more WiFi 6 devices will ship in 2022 than 5G devices, to the tune of at least 2.5 billion WiFi 6 devices, versus roughly 1.5 billion 5G devices.

“WiFi 6 has enjoyed widespread use in South Africa, with most internet users already using it. I've lost count of all the devices and cellphones that are using WiFi 6. Even at this very conference, the majority of people are using the network,” commented Colmer.

However, according to Deloitte Global, the rest of the African continent will have to wait a bit longer before it gains significant foothold of WiFi 6.

Battle continues

WAPA is a telcoms industry representative body, positioned to be an interface between the government regulator, network operators, service providers and consumers.

The non-profit is currently lobbying the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to exempt 1 200MHz of radio frequency spectrum from licensing, in order to improve WiFi networks in South Africa.

The new spectrum, according to WAPA, is the band used by WiFi 6E – the latest generation of WiFi technology.

WiFi 6E is short for WiFi 6 extended ─ a standard that provides numerous 160MHz channels and is good for supporting 5G services.

WAPA has collaborated with the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance to conduct research, which shows South Africa could benefit by up to nearly $58 billion (R928 billion) over the next 10 years by enabling 1 200 licence-exempt megahertz in the 6GHz band.

Colmer is of the view that even after the spectrum auction, opening up the 1 200MHz of spectrum would increase the spectrum capacity by more than double the currently available spectrum in SA.

However, in its response, ICASA told ITWeb in May that the telecoms watchdog is protecting existing users of the much-needed 1 200GHz of WiFi 6E spectrum.

“We are starved of spectrum in South Africa and we have interference issues which hinder the full potential of the spectrum we have. This spectrum band will open up a whole realm of things, including WiFi 7, because such a huge component of WiFi 7 is in fact that extra WiFi 6 E band. While having WiFi 7 is not restricted to having the WiFi 6E band, this band would assist in enabling WiFi 7 to perform at its full performance to the same standards as we see in other countries,” asserted Colmer.

According to the WiFi Alliance, markets across the EU, and countries such as South Korea, Brazil, Chile, Mexico the US, the UK, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, have already made portions of 6GHz available on an unlicensed basis for WiFi applications.

Nevertheless, WAPA is optimistic that ICASA, together with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, will consider the recommendations of the report and look at releasing this band.