Wi-Fi 7’s mission-critical role in enterprise, industrial networking

As we transition from Wi-Fi 6 to the more advanced Wi-Fi 7, we uncover the significant enhancements in speed, efficiency, and spectrum usage that set it apart from its predecessors.

In this Help Net Security interview, Tiago Rodrigues, CEO at Wireless Broadband Alliance, discusses the transformative world of Wi-Fi 7, exploring its features and the impact it promises to have on our digital landscape.

Rodrigues examines the crucial role of AI and machine learning in the evolution of Wi-Fi technology, focusing on network management, user experience, and security. The interview navigates through the intricacies of the Wi-Fi 7 technology, its integration with cellular networks, and the future of seamless connectivity.

Wi-Fi 7

What key differentiators set Wi-Fi 7 apart from its predecessors, and how do you anticipate these changes influencing the future wireless communication landscape?

Based on the IEEE 802.11be (Extreme High Throughput) standard, Wi-Fi 7 is faster and more spectrum efficient than every previous Wi-Fi generation. It also adds breakthrough features ideal for new and demanding applications, such as immersive AR/VR/XR, online gaming and other applications that require high throughput, low latency, minimal jitter, and high reliability.

For example, Wi-Fi 7 is three times faster than Wi-Fi 6 because it supports 4K QAM and channel widths up to 320 MHz versus 160 MHz for Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6. These upgrades make it ideal for bandwidth-intensive applications such as gigabit Wi-Fi in homes with multiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously.

Wi-Fi 6, 6E and 7 topped the list of wireless technologies that network operators, ISPs, device and chipset vendors, enterprises and other companies plan to deploy by the end of 2024, in our latest cross-industry report. Furthermore, confidence in investment across the sector is rising with 58% saying they are more confident in investing in Wi-Fi compared to a year ago.

Wi-Fi 7

As Wi-Fi 7 promises enhanced performance for high-demand applications, how do you foresee it impacting the development and adoption of emerging technologies like IoT, smart cities, and the metaverse?

Wi-Fi 7 will enable consumer, enterprise, Industry 4.0, medical, smart city and other applications that are impractical or impossible with other wired and wireless technologies, providing twice the bandwidth of Wi-Fi 6 and providing features such as deterministic network support. However, there are other key drivers for Wi-Fi 7 use including:

  • Ultra-low deterministic latencies to take user experiences to the next level and enable new enterprise use cases.
  • Management of packets depending on environment conditions, such as congestion for cloud gaming.
  • Wider use cases for IoT including Wi-Fi, opening up new opportunities and freeing factories from the limitations of SCADA.
  • Convergence with Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) like “5G” providing backhaul for Wi-Fi 7 deployments and services such as expanding adoption of Wi-Fi calling.
Given vendors’ massive investment in machine learning and AI to improve Wi-Fi technology, what breakthroughs can we expect regarding network management, user experience, and security?

The role of AI and machine learning cannot be overstated, with Adaptive AI set to explode on networks, from enabling Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) to predicting network resourcing needs.

AI will help enterprises and ISPs speed up troubleshooting; streamline monitoring; and proactively anticipate outages, equipment failures, and performance degradation. AI algorithms are also being used increasingly to ensure optimum Wi-Fi coverage, improving the user experience.

How do innovations in time-sensitive networking, bounded latency, and automatic frequency coordination enhance Wi-Fi’s role in mission-critical networking in enterprise and industrial sectors? How significant is the part of AI and machine learning in driving these advancements?

Wi-Fi 7 devices can use multi-link operation (MLO) in the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands to increase throughput by aggregating multiple links or to quickly move critical applications to the optimal band using seamless switching between links. Fast link switching allows Wi-Fi 7 devices to avoid interference and access Wi-Fi channels without delaying critical traffic.

This and other new features also make Wi-Fi 7 ideal for immersive XR/AR/VR, online gaming and other consumer applications that require high throughput, low latency, minimal jitter, and high reliability.

As metioned earlier, AI is going to be critical component to delivering all these services, but one example is AFC coordination, where the functions of the standard ensure that different tiers of usage can be managed in the same band without interfering with each other or any established high-power transmissions on that band.

Wi-Fi 7

Considering the growing intersection of Wi-Fi and cellular technologies, especially in private enterprise networks, how do you envision the future of seamless, access-agnostic connectivity? What are the challenges and opportunities in achieving this convergence?

Convergence across technologies will progress enabling access to private and/or public 5G services over Wi-Fi. We expect network executives will continue deploying Wi-Fi and cellular in the coming years, with Wi-Fi 6E/7 for indoor, on-campus, and fixed network situations and 5G/cellular for outdoor, off-campus, and fast-mobility environments.

Rather than competing with 5G over emerging high-performance use cases, the Wi-Fi community continues to work on coexistence with 5G, especially around identity management, authentication, and policy management.

Naturally there are challenges with achieving seamless connectivity between 5G & Wi-Fi. A lot of industry alignment is needed to enable frictionless movement between networks, across technologies, vendors, and areas such as authentication, QoS, QoE and security. The Wireless Broadband Alliance is playing a key role in bringing all the stakeholders (operators, enterprises and network owners) together to ensure collaboration and alignment on the frameworks that will deliver seamless connectivity.

OpenRoaming is a great example of this and is a framework created by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to enable frictionless automatic connectivity between Wi-Fi and LTE/5G network hotspots with no need for manual authentication steps or registration. It also provides enterprise grade security for connections and the data moving across them.

Achieving this connectivity brings huge opportunities to extend coverage, capacity, whilst also reducing costs. The use of heterogeneous networks that take advantage of Wi-Fi and Private-Public cellular networks will lower CAPEX and OPEX costs whilst enable the development of new services that span multiple Radio Access Networks (RAN).

Growth of OpenRoaming will continue and extend to integrate with private 5G and IoT networks in 2024, reaching a critical point of exponential growth by 2026 when tens of millions of hotspots will be enabled. Deployments of OpenRoaming (with Passpoint), continue to rise as more brands and identity providers recognize the value of the federation to enable secure and seamless connectivity access across different networks.

What advice would you give to businesses and organizations looking to upgrade or future-proof their wireless infrastructure in anticipation of Wi-Fi 7?

For those upgrading their wireless infrastructure, it is important to remember that typically networks are sustained by backhaul systems that can evolve over time. However, features such as MLO make it likely that Wi-Fi 7 will be the generation leveraging existing resources to deliver the best experience. Hence, upgrades will mostly be on the network side to access points and controllers (physical/cloud operated).

Factor in 6 GHz AFC Standard Power if there are plans for any indoor-outdoor operations, and start consulting with your vendors on network planning.

The WBA is actively collaborating with its members to conduct field trials of these technologies in real-life Wi-Fi 7 networks. These trials are open to all interested industry players and are a crucial platform for mobile device and AP vendors, operators, and service providers to collectively test Wi-Fi 7 capabilities in key deployments scenarios.

In these trials, participants will gain invaluable hands-on, real-world insights into deploying Wi-Fi 7 across operator, residential, and enterprise networks. As with its Wi-Fi 6 trials, the WBA will share comprehensive reports that offer indispensable knowledge and serve as a reference for industry stakeholders, that will also assist those looking to upgrade their infrastructure.

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