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An introduction to Wi-Fi 7: Q&A with Keysight Technologies

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Consumer demand for wireless data access and throughput has grown steadily since wireless local area networks (WLAN) first became popular with the adoption of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 standard commonly known as Wi-Fi in 1997. Today, users expect widespread availability of high-speed Wi-Fi networks and devices, even as new standards such as Wi-Fi 7 are approved.

However, one of the biggest challenges to designing and deploying new routers, access points (APs), and devices that use Wi-Fi 7 features is ensuring those devices work properly in real-life network situations.

Recognising the challenges facing AP, router, and device makers, Keysight Technologies has introduced a network emulation solution designed to deliver signaling radio frequency (RF) and throughput testing for devices using Wi-Fi 7. Keysight Industry Solution Marketing Engineer Xiang Li talks about Wi-Fi 7, its advantages, and its implications for WLANs.

What is Wi-Fi 7 and what are its key benefits?

Developed by the IEEE as the 802.11be standard, Wi-Fi 7 is the next generation of Wi-Fi wireless communications technology, promising significant performance advancements and improvements over the previous standards. In addition to bringing higher speeds, greater capacity, and lower latency, Wi-Fi 7 provides more flexibility, efficiency, and reliability. These gains are achieved through greater control of the Wi-Fi medium by the AP. This will improve the network reliability of Wi-Fi networks through better maintained connections and enhanced roaming management. In addition, Wi-Fi 7 will allow networks to carry more types of internet of things (IoT) and smart devices and will be able to deliver the greater throughput and latency required for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications. The new version of Wi-Fi will also be more efficient when it comes to spectrum and power usage.

Are there any drawbacks to Wi-Fi 7?

The reason that Wi-Fi 7 will deliver a big leap in performance is because the new standards enable more features such as an increase of channel bandwidth from 160 MHz to 320 MHz, high order MIMO, and the use of multi-link operation (MLO). The drawback is that many of these changes will require significant hardware upgrades or improvements. This is especially true for MLO, the biggest technology improvement, which will require more intelligence in the AP. Embedding more intelligence and more scheduling decisions into devices means that more testing is required to avoid critical failures. It will also take some time to see Wi-Fi 7 in use, as device and AP makers won’t immediately be able to support all new Wi-Fi 7 standards. It is more likely that manufacturers will support certain Wi-Fi 7 features first and then progressively improve their support with hardware upgrades. This means in the short term we should expect that Wi-Fi 7 performance will be much lower until all of the features are generally available.

Who should make the switch to Wi-Fi 7?

The new features of Wi-Fi 7 will bring huge benefits to both enterprise users and regular consumers. However, enterprise users have the most to benefit from switching. Good example use cases are in stadiums, airports, hotels, and factories where improvements in the orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) operation will enable larger numbers of client connections per AP. In addition, enterprise users are deploying large numbers of IoTs driven by the internet and AI, which will improve efficiency and productivity. Reliable and efficient backbone networks are needed to support the massive number of new devices. Wi-Fi 6 does not have the bandwidth and private 5G networks are too expensive to deploy and operate. Wi-Fi 7 will be able to deliver the performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness needed by enterprise users.

How close are we from seeing Wi-Fi 7 devices?

While initial Wi-Fi 7 APs and clients have been released into the market, there is still a lot of ground to be covered. The number of new features in Wi-Fi 7 will require serious hardware upgrades before anything else. For example, if you don’t have the RF component needed to support the increased network bandwidth, your network device will not be able to deliver Wi-Fi 7. This means we will see router and AP makers working very hard to support Wi-Fi 7. This will take time.

On the other hand, when it comes to devices, we should expect to see more Wi-Fi-enabled devices in the near future. These will likely be aimed at enterprise users first, for applications such as warehouses, factories, airports, hospitals, and schools, where there is always a need for technology that improves efficiency, productivity, or security.

How will Wi-Fi 7 impact test and measurement?

From a test and measurement standpoint, things will be very different moving forward. Before Wi-Fi 7, networks and use cases for Wi-Fi were not very complicated. Router, AP, and device makers did not really have to do RF signaling testing. In the past, non-signaling testing – or testing devices without using a network environment – was the main testing method. This means that as long as a device could transmit signals with a good data rate, the device was ready to be introduced to the market. That is why Wi-Fi connections have usually been inconsistent and unreliable – because the devices weren’t tested in real-world conditions as part of a network.

How is Keysight helping manufacturers introduce Wi-Fi 7 devices?

With Wi-Fi 7, device makers will need to perform extensive signaling RF and throughput testing on clients and APs to ensure they work as intended when deployed. This is especially true given that the Wi-Fi industry has relied on non-signaling testing in the past. Router, AP, and device makers are going to need a turnkey platform that can emulate large numbers of Wi-Fi devices and network channels to test their products in real-world operating conditions.

This is why Keysight introduced the E7515W UXM Wireless Connectivity Test Platform for Wi-Fi. As the first network emulation solution that delivers signalling RF and throughput testing for devices using Wi-Fi 7, it delivers the testing tools that device makers need to simulate hundreds of Wi-Fi devices simultaneously along with realistic network traffic. In addition, the new platform supports Wi-Fi 7 throughput up to 4×4 MIMO 32o MHz bandwidth.

With the number of new features available in Wi-Fi 7 and the scaling and throughput challenges faced by designers, the new E7515W UXM Wireless Connectivity Test solution simplifies testing new devices. This includes testing for more complex devices that support Wi-Fi / cellular interworking as well as integrated fixed wireless access testing for the fast-growing customer premises equipment (CPE) market.

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