Wireless acts as the front door to a network’s user experience. But with the multitude of wireless devices and things, sometimes the importance of that first impression gets lost. That front door opens your users to the world of your business, for better or worse. Does your door seamlessly and automatically slide open or is it more like an old creaky door that is hard to open?
With the opening of the 6 GHz spectrum for commercial use via the arrival of Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax) and soon Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be), there exists a massive opportunity to move more data—and do so faster.
What does the future look like with Wi-Fi 7?
The huge leap in wireless connectivity that Wi-Fi 7 enables will open new capabilities for high-bandwidth, high-impact applications and devices. This can mean opportunities to utilize more augmented reality and virtual reality technology, given Wi-Fi 7’s efficiencies from low latency and increased speeds. Wi-Fi 7 could lead to an entirely new category of devices, like when the Internet of Things jumped off with connected refrigerators and Wi-Fi-enabled cameras. The possibilities with Wi-Fi 7’s data rates and pervasive connectivity are exciting and impressive and represent a new frontier of usage scenarios.
Wi-Fi 7 could bring holographic meetings to reality (think Star Trek’s holodeck), featuring full-body projections without glitching or lagging. Wi-Fi 7 could replace QR code restaurant menus with augmented reality menu experiences, allowing diners to see the presentation and ingredients before ordering. Wi-Fi 7 could deliver seamless, reliable connectivity for users’ devices from building to building without users having to think about which network they should connect to. Wi-Fi 7 will bring about many changes, some of which can only be speculated about because it will be so transformative for networks, devices, and users, everywhere.
But for the future of your business, Wi-Fi 7 presents an opportunity to land an exceptionally differentiated customer experience, increased revenue and efficiency, and reduced time-to-value for digital initiatives. According to a survey conducted by Gartner, these are among some of CIOs’ most critical outcomes from their technology investments. 1
For retail organizations, Wi-Fi 7 applies to all three of these outcomes. As soon as a customer enters a retail store, they may join the store’s network and opt into its wayfinding without the frustration of buffering or loading. Retail customers and employees alike could utilize virtual reality to see product dimensions and details that are displayed in real-time, unlike today’s clunky 360-degree online views. This could lead to more efficient inventory arrays and management, and ultimately, increased sales volume. With the addition of Wi-Fi 7, all the lines of business (marketing, sales, inventory, purchasing, IT, and operations) will have some interaction with each other and the store’s network.
In healthcare, Wi-Fi 7 could yield a better patient experience, reducing risk for both patients and providers. Faster data rates and more persistent wireless connectivity mean check-ins can be quicker and more accurate, leaving time for providers to treat a greater number of patients safely. The connections will be so fast and reliable, that Wi-Fi 7 could propel laboratories and health research institutions across the globe to collaborate more on data-intensive research.
In education, Wi-Fi 7 could create higher-quality learning applications that are targeted for specific study areas. Imagine realistic 3D projections of microscopic cells for biology students to examine and study or a machine rendering that mechanical engineering students can disassemble in real time. With improved virtual and digital experiences, Wi-Fi 7 connectivity could potentially accelerate the delivery of education more than at any other time in history.
The devices, applications, and methods used throughout all industries will likely see significant transformations due to innovations with Wi-Fi 7.
How will Wi-Fi 7 work?
Wi-Fi 6E and the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 are wireless standards that are primed to alter the wireless landscape indefinitely. Arguably the greatest advancement in wireless technology in the past 20 years, these standards will change how people and devices connect to networks everywhere.
Some notable functionalities in the Wi-Fi 7 specification include:
4x higher data rates (with a theoretical throughput of approximately 46 Gbps, compared to Wi-Fi 6’s top speed of 9.6 Gbps) using 4K-QAM, 320 MHz channel width, and up to 16 spatial streams
Increased speed, reduced latency, and greater reliability with multi-link operation (MLO), which allows capable wireless devices to associate and exchange traffic on multiple bands (or multiple channels in the same band with a dual 5 GHz radio)
Enhanced spectral efficiency and interference mitigation with multiple resource units (MRUs)
Efficient use of channel and bandwidth via preamble puncturing
It may take a while for Wi-Fi 7 to become a viable element of your networking or technology strategy. As of this writing, the public timeline for Wi-Fi 7’s official release is not until spring 2024. However, now is an optimal time to reflect on your technology strategy and how the peak adoption of Wi-Fi 7 (which realistically may be a year or two away) will affect your digital initiatives.
How do you plan for Wi-Fi 7?
It will take time for new and updated client devices, chipsets, and best practices to emerge. As with any new technology adoption curve, some of the growing pains experienced by early adopters will pave the way for the majority to know exactly what is useful and what needs further development. No matter which category your organization falls into, there are both technology and business preparatory measures you can make now, in advance of launching your Wi-Fi 7 deployment, such as:
Designing for the future using the data you have.
Defining where Wi-Fi makes a difference.
Dreaming big for your business.
While Wi-Fi 7 specifications may not be final yet, what we know now can help IT and network teams design for the future. Wireless device analytics and survey tools can give you a more holistic view of your network and a baseline from which to build later. Smart wireless design is going to be paramount in this new world of Wi-Fi 7, given how many new pathways will be available for any given wireless device.
Think about which parts of the business can be more efficient using Wi-Fi technology as the change agent. Working across the organization, CIOs can plan on greater use of the network for new tasks in separate lines of business. Consider partnering with other business executive leaders and cross-business segments in developing your plan for Wi-Fi 7 implementations—not just network connectivity and mission-critical functions, but also for front-of-house customer experiences.
With technology areas like cybersecurity, generative AI, cloud platforms, and analytics getting a lot of hype these days, you might be tempted to pause on adopting new wireless technology in favor of those areas. Perhaps you find yourself debating implementing Wi-Fi 6E now or waiting on Wi-Fi 7. Nicholas Swiatecki, Product Manager at Cisco, recently reframed this question as part of his 6GHz and Beyond with Cisco presentation at Mobility Field Day 10: “What might [you] gain from Wi-Fi 7 that [your] users care about?” In the fast-moving world of wireless devices and things, sometimes the perspective of what your users care about can be forgotten. Leaders for any business, in any industry, who seriously consider and plan for Wi-Fi 7 will be the ones who give their organizations a competitive edge.
By Stefani Johnson, Product Marketing Manager (Wireless) at Cisco