By Ioannis Glaropoulos, Technical Product Manager, Nordic Semiconductor

Wi-Fi 6 has brought significant enhancements to IoT applications, but the Wi-Fi Alliance is already working ahead.
Such is the pace of global advance that any technology that stands still will spiral down into obscurity. The same is true of wireless standards. Each time a revision to Bluetooth, Matter, Thread, Wi-Fi, or another standard is adopted, you can be sure that engineers have already worked hard for months or even years on the next upgrade.

Wi-Fi today…

Since its initial launch, the Wi-Fi standard has advanced through six generations in the near quarter century. While strictly not part of the Wi-Fi standard, incorporating support for the Internet Protocol (IP) suite on top of the IEEE802.11 Physical (PHY) and Medium Access Control (MAC) layers underpinned Wi-Fi’s first major commercial expansion. Then the IEEE802.11n and ac versions ('Wi-Fi 4' and 'Wi-Fi 5'), introduced in 2009 and 2013, respectively, propelled the technology to the forefront of high-speed consumer wireless connectivity.
For the latest version, Wi-Fi 6, the IoT, together with greater convenience for consumers, was in the forefront of the minds of the engineers writing the specification. Now, consumers’ network devices can simultaneously uplink on different Wi-Fi streams, effectively boosting uplink capacity.
Although Wi-Fi 6 was introduced as recently as 2019, there is already a complementary version called Wi-Fi 6E. This was introduced in early 2020 and differs from Wi-Fi 6 in that it uses unlicensed spectrum allocation in the 6 GHz region. Standard Wi-Fi uses 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrum allocations, but both are becoming increasingly busy, leading to congestion.

…and Wi-Fi tomorrow

While Wi-Fi 6 currently sets the standard, Wi-Fi 7 has been in the works for some time. Technically called IEEE 802.11be, Wi-Fi 7 will use multi-band and -channel aggregation and operation to deliver higher spectrum and power efficiency, better interference immunity, greater capacity density, and higher cost efficiency.
A key new feature is called multi-link operation (MLO), which enables transmission between the access point (AP) and a device on different radios at the same time—for example, one using the 5 GHz allocation and the other using 6 GHz—if radio frequency conditions allow. The result is that high-priority data is generally transmitted without delay.
That these enhancements will make Wi-Fi 7 faster than previous versions is perhaps of little surprise, but the improvement is dramatic; theoretical maximum raw data throughput is 36 Gbps from the access point (AP) compared with 9.6 Gbps for Wi-Fi 6. A major part of this throughput increase is the availability of a maximum 320 MHz channel width, up from a maximum of 160 MHz for Wi-Fi 6. Real-world implementations will likely use less than the full channel width and feature lower throughput but will still represent a significant jump in speed. Because of this, the Wi-Fi Alliance has taken to calling Wi-Fi 7 “Wi-Fi Extremely High Throughput”.

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