According to research and analysis specialist Emily Djock, there are a number of forces shaping the future of the ICT industry. “These forces drive innovation and new approaches to value chains and business models in the industry,” she says.
From my perspective, one such force has to be wireless connectivity – WiFi − which has been central to enterprise networking for more than two decades. WiFi has improved dramatically over this period, going from its early beginnings to worldwide domination, with market values estimated to break $25 billion by 2026.
Today, with speeds of 400Mbps to 600Mbps, WiFi is used to connect a broad and increasingly sophisticated range of devices, while innovations in WiFi technology, such as WiFi 6, are already playing key roles in many South African enterprises.
That said, the question is already being asked: How will these organisations cope with the increasing demands made on their wireless networks by new-generation high-bandwidth applications which are tasked with keeping pace with increasingly powerful devices?
WiFi 6 was considered a leap forward for WiFi, being the first standard to operate in the 6GHz band; however, new, game-changing WiFi tech is en routeto address this issue.
WiFi 7's goal is to deliver significantly higher speeds for every device with greater efficiency.
This is WiFi 7, the seventh generation of WiFi. It is the upcoming WiFi standard, also known as IEEE 802.11be Extremely High Throughput. It works across all available frequency bands to fully utilise spectrum resources.
While WiFi 6 was conceived in response to the growing number of devices in the world, WiFi 7's goal is to deliver significantly higher speeds for every device with greater efficiency. As such, it includes many advances designed to increase capacities, reduce latency and boost stability.
Let’s be clear, currently there is no WiFi 7 certification. This is probably a year away at the earliest. However, this does not mean there are no on-going developments associated with the technology. On the contrary, we can expect WiFi 7 products to reach the market well before the certification programme has been completed.
In fact, WiFi 7 chipsets for a range of devices, including smartphones, are already available, as are the first WiFi 7 routers.
According to David Coleman, an acknowledged technology evangelist, public speaker and author, the two key features associated with WiFi 7 – among “new promised bells and whistles” − are 4K QAM modulation and 320MHz channel bandwidths in 6GHz.
Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) is a method to transmit and receive data in radio-frequency waves. The higher it is, the more information can be carried. The jump to 4K-QAM equates to a 20% increase in peak performance over WiFi 6.
With 320MHz channel bandwidths, WiFi 7 is able to deliver substantial improvements in throughput thanks to wider channel and capacity gains. WiFi 7 permits peak-rate deliveries of over 40Gbps, a four-fold increase over WiFi 6.
“Both features contribute to some of the claims of theoretical speeds of up to 30Gbps,” says Coleman. “[But] let’s be honest, there will not be real-world speeds of 30Gbps. Defined data rates are always theoretical, and due to medium contention, the actual TCP throughput is usually about 50%-60% of any advertised WiFi data rate being used.”
That said, Coleman adds that real-world, record-breaking multi-gig WiFi speeds will indeed become more common, especially in the consumer market where multi-gig broadband initiatives are already being announced.
In addition, WiFi 7 will have the ability to pair more effectively with cloud-managed networks, enabling IT teams to vastly improve the management of the distributed network of an infinite enterprise by, for example, improving real-time collaboration and enhancing online video conferencing.
This is as a result of WiFi 7’s ability to deal with congestion and interference, while delivering tangible benefits to corporate areas with densely-packed devices, or neighbouring enterprise networks that overlap.
It is also due to WiFi 7’s advanced wireless and Bluetooth features that will surely be adopted by a new generation of mobile computing solutions.
Looking ahead, WiFi 7 is set to change users’ network habits in terms of procedures and conventions by addressing an extremely broad spectrum of applications − anything from smart security management to improved telemedicine services. These applications will require high throughput and ultra-low latency, far beyond the capabilities of WiFi 6.
Being the game-changer that it undoubtedly will become, WiFi 7 is able to elevate a range of wireless experiences and introduce new ones, including extended reality, immersive augmented and virtual reality, 4K/8K video streaming involving transmission rates of up to 20Gbps, together with social cloud-based gaming and simultaneous video conferencing and casting.
Paul Colmer, exco member of the Wireless Access Providers Association, as quoted in ITWeb, says WiFi 7 is expected to benefit every sector in SA, especially those specialising in internet of things devices, the hospitality industry, the industrial sector − which heavily relies on monitoring tools – as well as technology service providers.
According to local industry watchers, WiFi 7 could arrive in South Africa sooner than we think, with products making a perceptible appearance on the market by mid-2023, followed by a proliferation of offerings in early 2024.
However, a word of encouragement for recent investors in WiFi 6: Even when WiFi 7 arrives, it will not force WiFi 6 solutions into obsolescence. The two will likely coexist as complementary technologies for many years to come.