Wi-Fi 7 will support 320-megahertz transmissions and 4096-QAM, requiring more advanced test equipment
While consumers and enterprise decision makers continue to weigh the benefits of updating to Wi-Fi 6, the wireless industry is already preparing for the arrival of Wi-Fi 7, or 802.11ba. Wi-Fi 7, among other things, promises better interference mitigations, higher capacity and lower latency. From the perspectives of NI’s Senior Solutions Marketing Manager Alejandro Buritica and Go-to-Market Director and Head of Semiconductor Marketing David Hall, however, test and measurement equipment is going to have to advance in order to reliably test the performance of the next-generation of Wi-Fi.
According to Hall, Wi-Fi 6 doesn’t necessarily suffer from “severe technology limitations.” Instead, what Wi-Fi 7 really offers is more spectrum to serve all of the emerging use cases and devices that rely on wireless connectivity.
Buritica agreed, telling RCR Wireless News, “There is always going to be a need for more bandwidth. As applications evolve, the market is going to beg for more bandwidth.”
Wi-Fi 7 will support 320-megahertz transmissions, which is double the 160-megahertz of Wi-Fi 6, as well as 4096-QAM — up from 1024-QAM in Wi-Fi 6. It is these two improvements, primarily, that will require testing equipment to be revamped.
“As the standard evolves and improves,” explained Buritica, “you can’t really be using the same test equipment from 20 years ago. With Wi-Fi 7, there is a new level of testing that needs to happen. You’ll be testing 320-megahertz-wide channels, which creates new test scenarios.”
He added that Wi-Fi 7’s higher modulation of 4096-QAM results in the need for more linear instrumentation when testing the functionality of the Wi-Fi chips.
QAM, or Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, represent discrete phases of magnitude that can be transmitted to the carrier. QAM utilizes both amplitude and phase components to provide a form of modulation that is able to provide high levels of spectrum usage efficiency.
Basic signals exhibit only two phases of magnitude, which allow the transfer of either a 0 or 1, and as Hall pointed out, this makes it pretty easy to tell which is which. But, as you get to higher order modulation formats, like in the case of Wi-Fi 6, which has 1024- QAM or Wi-Fi 7, which has 4096-QAM, the phases of magnitude are closer together, and therefore, are more susceptible to noise and data errors.
“The more states you have,” said Hall, “the harder it is to tell them apart and the higher performance the hardware has to have in order to transmit and receive that signal.”
In order to know if a Wi-Fi chip is meeting the requirements for transmitting and receiving the 4096 discrete phases of magnitude supported by Wi-Fi 7 standards, you need to have test equipment that can also meet these requirements.
IEEE plans to publish the Wi-Fi 7 amendment sometime in 2024, with commercial deployment occurring around the same time. Then, just like Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, the Wi-Fi Alliance will release its Wi-Fi 7 certification program to ensure interoperability and security standards.
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