Will the emergence of Wi-Fi 7 have an impact on cellular communication technologies such as 5G?

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Will the emergence of Wi-Fi 7 have an impact on cellular communication technologies such as 5G?

Posted Date: 2024-01-23

Speaking of short-range wireless communications, everyone should be familiar with it. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that we use every day fall into this technology category.

In recent times, there have been more and more news about Wi-Fi 7 in the industry, which has attracted a lot of new attention to this communication segment.

Many people say, I have just used Wi-Fi 6, why is Wi-Fi 7 coming again? Will the emergence of Wi-Fi 7 have an impact on cellular communication technologies such as 5G? Will short-range wireless communications usher in a wave of good news?

In today’s article, Xiao Zaojun will talk to you about this topic.

█The development history of short-range communications

Short-range wireless communication technology started later than cellular communication.

In the 1980s, the U.S. FCC (Federal Communications Commission) launched unlicensed spectrum (i.e., ISM band) based on strong demands from the industry, creating conditions for the emergence of short-range wireless communication technology.

In 1990, IEEE established the 802.11 working group to establish a universal wireless technology standard based on unlicensed spectrum.

Soon after, they selected a set of wireless network technologies invented by the Australian research institution CSIRO and adopted them as the core technical standards of 802.11.

In 1999, 802.11a and 802.11b were approved successively. After the establishment of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA, later the Wi-Fi Alliance), this technology was officially named Wi-Fi.

The pioneer of Wi-Fi industrialization is the famous Apple Company. In July 1999, they introduced Wi-Fi for the first time in their new generation of iBook laptops, setting off a wave of popularity around the world.

The rise of Wi-Fi has an obvious historical background. At that time, the Internet was booming and data cellular (3G) was just getting started. Only portable products such as laptops based on Wi-Fi can obtain wireless network access capabilities.

Appearing almost at the same time as Wi-Fi, there was also Bluetooth.

In 1994, Ericsson took the lead in proposing an early solution for Bluetooth, aiming to enable mobile phones to establish low-power, low-cost wireless communication connections with other accessories.

In 1998, Ericsson joined forces with IBM, Intel and other five well-known manufacturers to jointly establish the "Special Interest Group" (SIG), which later evolved into the Bluetooth Technology Alliance. The first generation of Bluetooth (Bluetooth 1.0) was born in 1999 and was later officially included in the 802.15.1 standard.

After entering the 21st century, short-range wireless communication technologies represented by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have developed rapidly with the help of the Internet. Wi-Fi has evolved from Wi-Fi 1 to Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth has also evolved from 1.0 to 5.0.

The evolution of Wi-Fi

In addition to consumer application scenarios such as laptops, short-range communication technology is also widely used in the field of Internet of Things.

Short-range communication technology uses license-free frequency bands, which not only saves expensive spectrum purchase costs, but also avoids cumbersome application procedures. Therefore, it is favored by industry enterprises. Many companies have developed corresponding products and invested in smart home, industrial manufacturing, medical education and other fields, contributing to the early development of the Internet of Things.

By the time cellular communication technologies such as 4G and 5G begin to fully intervene in the field of Internet of Things, it will already be 2015-2020.

Although the cellular Internet of Things came late, with its advantages of long communication distance and high network bandwidth, it quickly became the new favorite in the industry and occupied the market share of short-range wireless communication technology.

Since its development, cellular communication technology and short-range wireless communication technology have gradually formed a relatively stable competitive landscape. The former is more suitable for scenes outdoors, with long communication distances, and high mobility. The latter is more suitable for relatively fixed scenes such as indoors, especially in homes, offices, parks and other scenes.

There will also be some overlap or collaboration between the two. For example, in automotive applications, cellular technology is usually used for external car connections, while Wi-Fi or Bluetooth are used for internal vehicle communications. Another example is a laptop, which has both Wi-Fi and cellular.

According to market data, the vitality of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is still very strong, and shipments have always remained high (Wi-Fi shipments will exceed 4.4 billion units in 2022), not losing to cellular communications.

The advantages of short-range communication technology are actually very obvious. Although some of their performance indicators are not as good as 5G, they are extremely cost-effective, simple to network, and easy to deploy. For many users, it has lower cost of use, does not need to rely on the operator's public network, and has stronger independence and privacy, so it still has important value.

█ Wi-Fi 7, opening a new era of short-range communication

Times are developing rapidly. In recent years, the digital transformation process of the entire society has been accelerating. The complex digital scenarios in all walks of life have put forward higher requirements for the performance indicators of communication technology.

In order to make up for the gap in technical indicators and to better meet user needs, short-range wireless communication technology has accelerated its own technological iteration. On the Wi-Fi technology line, Wi-Fi 7 has evolved.

Wi-Fi 7, the official standard name is 802.11be, and it also has a "nickname" called EHT (Extremely High Throughput).

As the latest generation Wi-Fi technology standard, it integrates 320MHz bandwidth, 4K-QAM, enhanced MU-MIMO, MLO and other technologies. The maximum theoretical rate can reach 46Gbps, which is more than three times that of Wi-Fi 6. The latency of Wi-Fi 7 has also dropped significantly compared to the previous generation, reaching less than 5ms.

In addition to improvements in performance indicators such as speed and latency, Wi-Fi 7 also brings improvements in network networking and collaboration.

As long as they meet standards, routing APs from different manufacturers can collaborate to achieve inter-cell time and frequency domain coordination planning, inter-cell interference coordination, and distributed MIMO. This effectively reduces interference between APs and greatly improves the utilization of wireless air interface resources.

In recent months, Wi-Fi 7 has entered a period of intensive product release. Many manufacturers have released Wi-Fi 7 related products, including routers and terminals. A few days ago, the Wi-Fi Alliance also officially announced the full launch of Wi-Fi 7 certification. This is an important milestone for the Wi-Fi industry.

As an important part of the industry, Wi-Fi 7 modules also have commercialization progress worthy of attention.

On January 9, during the 2024 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), global head module manufacturer Quectel announced the official launch of a communication module supporting Wi-Fi 7 technology.FGE576QandFGE573Qproviding strong support for the next generation of Internet of Things and mobile terminal devices.

In terms of network connection speed, which the market is most concerned about, these two modules perform very well. Among them, the FGE576Q has a data transmission rate of up to 3.6 Gbps and supports dual-band concurrency of 2.4GHz+5GHz and 2.4GHz+6GHz. FGE573Q provides speeds up to 2.9Gbps.

In terms of technical characteristics, both modules adopt MLO (multi-link operation) technology, which can use multiple wireless frequency bands and channels to perform concurrent operations at the same time, thereby improving throughput and reducing latency.

In addition to the main chip, the module also has two 2.4GHz FEMs (radio frequency front-end modules) and two 5GHz/6GHz FEMs, which can effectively increase the transmission power and better support dual-band concurrency.

In terms of security, both modules use WPA3 encryption and other functions to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data transmission.

It is worth mentioning that the two modules also achieve the best coexistence of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, integrate Bluetooth dual-mode, with a maximum rate of 2 Mbps and support low-power audio and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) functions.

Wi-Fi 7 has super connection performance. In addition to traditional scenarios such as laptops, it is also very suitable for emerging scenarios such as ultra-high-definition streaming media, online games, and VR/AR.

In recent years, FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) business has developed rapidly around the world, which has greatly promoted the MiFi, CPE and other equipment markets. Modules that integrate advanced cellular technology (5G) and short-range communication technology (Wi-Fi 7) are believed to be welcomed by the market.

█ Development Trend of Wi-Fi Modules

Wi-Fi has a wide range of applications in homes, businesses, industries, and Internet of Vehicles. With the development of the times and technology, Wi-Fi modules have also shown some new trends.

The first trend is the increasing difficulty of module design.

Different application scenarios have different requirements for Wi-Fi modules, which poses great challenges to module design.

There are generally three types of Wi-Fi modules.

The first type is the transparent transmission type, which is equivalent to an RF radio frequency transceiver module and is characterized by high throughput.

The second type is the MCU type, which has a built-in microprocessor running an RTOS system, which is equivalent to a single-chip microcomputer. It has stronger functions but a lower speed, and is mainly suitable for Internet of Things applications.

The third type is a vehicle-scale group, which meets the requirements of vehicle regulations and has higher reliability.

Quectel's layout in the field of Wi-Fi modules shows the characteristics of "comprehensive", with rich products in the above three types.

However, different types of modules have different design requirements and compatibility requirements. Take the CPE just mentioned as an example. Because it has both cellular communication and Wi-Fi communication, the operating frequencies of the two are likely to be relatively close, and there will be coexistence issues. In other words, adjacent channels will cause interference and affect the quality of signal transmission and reception.

First-class module manufacturers like Quectel will take more comprehensive considerations into their designs. They will use hardware and software mechanisms to solve this interference problem.

The hardware mechanism is isolation through antennas or filtering. The software mechanism reduces interference by passing the handshake protocol and adjusting the transmit power.

In addition to the increasing difficulty of design, another development trend of Wi-Fi modules is the diversification of product categories.

The Wi-Fi we usually know is based on the traditional 2.4G/5G/6GHz frequency band. In fact, there is another important category of Wi-Fi, which is Sub-GHz (operating frequency below 1GHz).

The most typical representative is Wi-Fi HaLow.

Wi-Fi HaLow (802.11ah) is a new Wi-Fi technology launched by the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2016, operating in the frequency band below 1GHz (usually around 900MHz).

It focuses on the IoT market and has significant advantages in coverage and penetration capabilities. For example, Quectel's Wi-Fi HaLow module FGH100M has a coverage distance of up to 1 km and is highly competitive in the entire Wi-Fi HaLow market.

The third development trend of Wi-Fi modules is the upgrade of supporting support services.

The module is the link between the chip and the complete machine. Module manufacturers provide modules to facilitate customers to launch corresponding terminal products more easily, conveniently and quickly.

With the continuous evolution of communication technology standards, the difficulty of product development and design is also increasing. Simply providing modules is no longer able to meet customer needs.

For example, Quectel will extend its services and provide more complete solutions and service support. For example, there will be supporting antenna services for modules, more diversified radio frequency design solutions and services, more complete documentation, software bill of materials, etc. By helping customers reduce their development workload as much as possible, they can shorten the product development cycle and seize the opportunity in rapid market changes.

█ Final words

All in all, short-range communication technology represented by Wi-Fi still has huge market space.

The digital scenario of vertical industries is extremely complex. Diverse needs require diverse technologies. For short-distance communication technology, with its advantages in cost and flexibility, I believe there is unlimited development potential to be tapped.

Wi-Fi 7 is actually a manifestation of short-range communication technology actively meeting user needs and striving to upgrade capabilities. I believe that with its popularization, short-distance communications will usher in a better tomorrow.

Review Editor: Liu Qing

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