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Why 7 is Wi-Fi’s Lucky Number

By Revanth Allada, IP Litigation Consultant

“We could see Wi-Fi 7 certified products sooner than 2024,” UnitedLex Patent Attorney 

The market for faster internet connectivity is insatiable.  According to a 2021 survey by Deloitte[1], the average number of connected devices in a U.S. household grew to 25 last year from 11 in 2019. And, the marketplace’s ravenous appetite for rapid connection shows no signs of abating. 

According to a IMARC Group report[2], the global Wi-Fi Market in 2021 is USD 24.2 Billion. The report predicted that the market would reach USD 54.53 Billion by 2027, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 13.7% between 2022-2027. All this is pointing to one thing – ever increasing growth in the Wi-Fi industry. 

Enter Wi-Fi 7 

With so many advancements, IEEE 802.11be, which will drive the next generation of Wi-Fi i.e., Wi-Fi 7, is expected to be Wi-Fi’s next big milestone. Users are demanding greater bandwidths for streaming content at higher resolutions. Further, gaming, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Metaverse, remote office, and video calling applications etc., all require higher data rates and lower latencies than ever. So, Wi-Fi 7’s data rate of 46 Gbps will be a boon to the industry, which is especially lucky for players poised for payouts. 

Wi-Fi 7 Patenting Activity: Players with portfolios potentially positioned to profit  

Companies like Qualcomm, LG, InterDigital, MediaTek, Intel, NXP, and Huawei have already been filing patents to secure their positions in the Wi-Fi 7 space, majorly related to Multi-Access Point Coordination, OFDMA with Multi-RU, Multi-Link Operation, and HARQ. Most of the patenting activity appears to be since 2019 with Qualcomm and InterDigital securing IP across a multitude of Wi-Fi 7 features. 

Thanks to companies like Qualcomm and InterDigital, IEEE 802.11be is on course to be published in 2024. In fact, Qualcomm[3] and Broadcom[4] already have products that they claim to be of Wi-Fi 7. In the past, Wi-Fi Alliance started certifying products with Wi-Fi 6 even before 802.11ax is published. So, it is likely that we may see products with Wi-Fi 7 certified logo in the market sooner than 2024. 

Evolution of Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 7 is expected to be the next big winner, with close to 5x data rates compared to Wi-Fi 6 

The pervasive term Wi-Fi, originally a trademark of Wi-FiAlliance, is used to brand certified Wireless LAN devices based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. Today, it is synonymous with IEEE 802.11 technology that was established in1997 and is undergoing a continuous process of refinement and innovation. Each amendment denoted with letters appended to 802.11 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax/be)provides wireless devices with greater speed, increased range, better reliability, or a combination of these. 

In 1999, the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance was formed as a trade association to hold the Wi-Fi trademark. Most products today are sold on the basis of this trademark to establish and enforce standards for interoperability and backward compatibility, and to promote Wireless LAN technology.  

The Wi-Fi Alliance administers and enforces the use of the-Fi brand to technologies based on the IEEE 802.11standards from the Institute of Electrical and electronics engineers (IEEE). The 802.11 publications set standards governing various techniques in Wireless LAN connections, device-to-device connectivity (such as Wi-Fi peer topeer or Wi-Fi Direct), personal area network (PAN), local area network (LAN), and even limited wide area network(WAN). Members of the Wi-Fi Alliance who own products conforming to the IEEE 802.11 radio standards earn the right to mark their manufactured products with the Wi-Fi logo. 

Below table shows the evolution of Wi-Fi and the associated IEEE standards from its origin in 1997 to its current generation i.e., Wi-Fi 6. The upcoming generation of Wi-Fi i.e., Wi-Fi 7 would be based on IEEE standard 802.11be, which is predicted to be published in 2024. 


 In the below figure, we depict how Wi-Fi has evolved across its generations in terms of network speed. After Wi-Fi 5, which brought over 11x data rates compared to Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 7 is expected to be the next big winner, with close to 5x data rates compared to Wi-Fi 6, thereby would take Wi-Fi to 46Gbps! 


Wi-Fi 6, the current generation of Wi-Fi

The current generation of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6 is based on IEEE standard 802.11ax. The standard was published on May 19, 2021[7]. Using certified products data available on Wi-Fi Alliance[8], we observe that Wi-Fi Alliance has been certifying products as Wi-Fi 6/6E compliant since Aug 2019. As of July 27, this year, there are a total of 2,544 Wi-Fi 6/6E certified products. Huawei and Samsung lead the race, contributing to 40% of Wi-Fi 6/6E certified products. 

Wi-Fi 7, the upcoming generation of Wi-Fi

In many WLAN deployments, video traffic is expected to continue to be the dominant type of traffic. The throughput requirements of video traffic-based applications are constantly evolving, especially due to the insurgence of 4K and 8K videos (with data rates skyrocketing to 32 Gbps[9]). Also, applications related to VR, AR, gaming, theMetaverse[10], and remote office etc., are all pushing towards higher data rates and lower latencies. To address these extremely high throughput, reduced latency, and higher bandwidth needs of these applications, IEEE has been developing, since 2019[11], the 802.11be standard for the next generation of Wi-Fi i.e., Wi-Fi 7. The 802.11be standard would encompass the following key features: 

  1. Channel bandwidth of up to 320 MHz, which is 2x of 802.11ax’s 160 MHz. 
  2. 4096-QAM, which is 4x of 802.11ax’s 1024-QAM. 
  3. MU-MIMO with 16 spatial streams, up from 802.11ax’s 8 spatial streams. 
  4. Enhanced OFDMAwith Multi-RU: Unlike in 802.11ax, where only one Resource Unit (RU) is assigned to a station, 802.11befeatures assigning multiple RUs to one station. 
  5. OFDMA with Direct Link: Introduced in 802.11ax, ODFMA supports only UL and DL transmissions via an access point. 802.11be would extend it to support Peer-to-PeerDirect Links between the nearby stations. 
  6. Multi-Band/Multi-Channel (Multi-Link) Operation: 802.11be would allow devices to transmit and receive data concurrently on multiple channels and bands (called links). 
  7. HARQ: 802.11be would introduce HARQ, which is used in cellular networks, to Wi-Fi. 
  8. Multi-Access Point Coordination: This enables nearby access points to coordinate with each other. The following multi-access point systems are being considered for 802.11be: 

a.Coordinated Spatial Reuse (CSR): It is an evolution to 802.11ax’s Spatial Reuse (SR) system.In 802.11ax’s SR, to mitigate interference, when one access point transmits with maximum transmit power, the neighbouring access points reduce their transmit powers. However, this could result in low SNR at some stations. Unlike this, with CSR, access points cooperatively control their transmit power for both having adequate SNR at all stations and mitigating interference. 

b.Coordinated OFDMA (Co-OFDMA): This system allows access points to coordinate their schedules in time and frequencies, with each other. This enables the nearby access points to assign the same RUs to two or more stations if there could be no inference. Alternatively, to avoid potential interference, the access points can assign different RUs to different stations. 

c.Coordinated Beamforming (CBF)/Null Steering: The underlying idea behind this system is that an access point, while forming beams to its stations, also targets to null its interference to particular nearby stations. 

d.Joint Transmission & Reception: This allows multiple access points to serve the same station by leveraging MU-MIMO system. 

Big things are happening with emerging technologies (Gaming, Metaverse, AR, VR, etc.) that require high data rates and low latencies. Wi-Fi 7 is in the right place at the right time to meet a compelling marketplace need. 7 is a lucky number for those who stand to profit.  

  5. Note: These are theoretical maximum data rates. Actual data rates in real world scenarios are likely different from these.
  9. (For 8K video, with refresh rate of 60 Hz, 8 bits per color, and chroma sampling of 4:2:0)
  10. Check out this recent whitepaper that we published on the Metaverse

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