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Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3: Another Real Buzz on 10Gbps Wi-Fi 7

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When Wi-Fi 7 gets here, it’s going to be big. Qualcomm would like you to think so anyway.

The company yesterday announced its second product line that supports the upcoming Wi-Fi standard, the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3 family, aimed at the broadcasting side with an emphasis on the business environment.

The new family of chips is in addition to the FastConnect 7800 that the company announced earlier this year for the home environment and the clients’ side.

In a way, this development helps Qualcomm complete its answer to Broadcom’s new chips, unveiled last month, that covered the entire Wi-Fi 7 spectrums and user demographics.

Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3 includes a few new chips.
Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3 includes a few new chips.

Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3: A new era of 10Gbps Wi-Fi

According to Qualcomm, the new Networking Pro Series Gen 3 products will:

“…combine Wi-Fi 7 features with Qualcomm Technologies’ intelligent multi-channel management technologies to improve speeds, lower latency, and enhance network utilization for users of Wi-Fi 6/6E devices while offering game-changing throughput and incredibly low latency for the next generation of Wi-Fi 7 client devices.”

Most importantly, they promise a new era of 10Gbps Wi-Fi by averaging all the new features and capabilities of Wi-Fi 7. (If you’re new to all this, the extra content below will fill it in quickly. )

Extra: Wi-Fi 7’s highlights

This portion of extra content is part of the explainer post on the new Wi-Fi 7 standard.

There are four areas where the new standard is better compared to the existing Wi-Fi 6 (and 6E).

1. The all-new 320MHz channel width

The first thing to note about Wi-Fi 7 is the new and much wider channel width, up to 320MHz, or double that of Wi-Fi 6/6E.

This new channel width is generally available on the 6GHz band, with up to three 320MHz channels. However, Wi-Fi 7 can also combine portions of the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to create this new bandwidth—more in the Multi-Link Operation section below.

Details of Wi-Fi channels can be found here, but the new channel width generally means Wi-Fi 7 can double the base speed, from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz).

So, in theory, just from the width alone, a 4×4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 can have up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth—or 10Gbps when rounded up. But there’s more to Wi-Fi 7’s bandwidth below.

Wi-Fi 7 also supports double the partial streams, up to 16. As a result, technically, a 16-stream (16×16) Wi-Fi 7 6GHz band can deliver up to over 40Gbps of bandwidth, especially when considering the new QAM support below.

Like Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, initially, Wi-Fi 7 will be available as dual-stream (2×2) and quad-stream (4×4) broadcasters and dual-stream clients. In the future, the standard might have 8×8 broadcasters and single-stream or quad-stream clients.

Again, you need a compatible client to use the new 320MHz channel width. Existing clients will connect using 160MHz at best. In reality, the 160MHz will likely be the realistic sweet-spot bandwidth of Wi-Fi 7, just like the 80MHz in the case of Wi-Fi 6.

2. The 4K-QAM

QAM, short for quadrature amplitude modulation, manipulates the radio wave to pack more information in the Hertz.

Wi-Fi 6 supports 1024-QAM, which itself is already impressive. However, Wi-Fi 7 will have four times that, or 4096-QAM. Greater QAM means better performance for the same channel width.

As a result, Wi-Fi 7 will be much faster and more efficient than previous standards when working with supported clients.

Wi-F 7 vs. Wi-Fi 6/6E: The realistic real-world speeds

With the support for the wider channel width and higher QAM, Wi-Fi 7 is set to be much faster than previous standards on paper.

You might have read somewhere that Wi-Fi 7 is “up to 4.8 times faster than Wi-Fi 6,” and hardware vendors will continue to combine the theoretical bandwidth of a broadcaster’s all bands into a single colossal number—such as BE19000, BE22000, or BE33000—which is excellent for advertising.

Like always, these numbers don’t mean much, and things are not that simple. In reality, a Wi-Fi connection generally happens on a single band at a time—that’s always true for Wi-Fi 6E and older clients—and is also limited by the client’s specs.

The table below summarizes what you can expect from Wi-Fi 7’s real-world organic performance compared to Wi-Fi 6E when working on the 6GHz.

Wi-Fi 6EWi-Fi 7
Max Channel Bandwidth
(theoretical/top-tier equipment)
160MHz320MHz
Channel Bandwidth
(widely implemented)
80MHz160MHz
Number of Available Channels7x 160MHz, or 14x 80MHz channels3x 320MHz, or
7x 160MHz channels, or
14x 80MHz channels
Highest Modulation 1024-QAM4096-QAM
Max Number
of Spatial Streams
(theoretical on paper / commercially implemented)
8 / 416 / 8 (estimate)
Max Bandwidth
Per Stream
(theoretical)
1.2Gbps (at 160MHz)
600Mbps (at 80MHz)
2.9Gbps (at 320MHz)
1.45Gbps (at 160MHz)
Max Band Bandwidth
(theoretical on paper)
9.6Gbps
(8×8)
46.1Gbps
(16×16)
Commercial Max Band Bandwidth Per Band
(commercially implemented)
4.8Gbps
(4×4)
23Gbps (8×8), or
11.5Gbps (4×4)
Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)2.4Gbps (via a 2×2 160MHz client)
1.2Gbps (via a 2×2 80MHz client)
11.5Gbps (via a 4×4 320MHz client)
5.8Gbps (via a 2×2 320MHz client or a 4×4 160MHz client)
2.9Gbps (via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2×2 160MHz client)
1.45Gbps (via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2×2 80MHz client)
Available Clients
(example)
2×2
(Intel AX210)
2×2
(Intel BE200)
Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 7: Theoretical data rates on the 6GHz band
(*) The actual negotiated speed depends on the client, Wi-Fi 7 specs, and environment. Real-world sustained rates are generally much lower than negotiated speeds—capping at about two-thirds at best. Wi-Fi 6/6E has had only 2×2 clients. Wi-Fi 7 will also use 2×2 clients primarily, but it might have 4×4 and even single-stream (1×1) clients.

Like Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, Wi-Fi 7 has been available only in 2×2 specs on the client side. That, plus the sweet-spot 160MHz channel width, means, generally, it’s safe to conservatively expect real-world rates of the mainstream Wi-Fi 7 (160MHz) to be about 20% faster than top-tier Wi-Fi 6E (160MHz) counterparts.

However, the new standard does have more bandwidth on the broadcasting side. So, it can handle more 2×2 clients simultaneously with high-speed real-world rates. And that’s always a good thing.

Multi-Link Operation, or MLO, is the most exciting and promising feature of Wi-Fi 7 that changes the norm of Wi-Fi: Up to Wi-Fi 6E, a Wi-Fi connection between two direct devices occurs in a single band, using a fixed channel at a time—they use a single link to transmit data.

It’s worth noting that MLO is a feature and not the base of the standard, meaning it can be supported by a particular device or not. It’s not expected to be universally available until late 2024.

In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, it allows combining two or more Wi-Fi bands into a single Wi-Fi link—one SSID and connection.

There are two MLO operation modes:

  • STR-MLMR MLO (Simultaneous Transmit and Receive Multi-Link Multi-Radio): It’s multi-link aggregation using all three bands (2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz) to deliver higher throughput, lower latency, and better reliability.
  • E-MLSR MLO (Enhanced Multi-Link Single Radio): It’s multi-link using dynamic band switching between 5GHz and 6GHz to deliver load balancing and lower latency.

No matter which mode is used, the gist is that the bonded link delivers “better” connection quality and “more” bandwidth.

It’s important to note, though, that at the end of the day, MLO increases the bandwidth, allowing different applications on a client to use the two bands simultaneously. The point here is that no application on the client can have a connection speed faster than the fastest band involved. A speedtest application, for example, still uses one of the bands at a time. This connection speed is still limited by the hardware specs on both ends of the link, whichever is lower.

So, the MLO feature affords a supported client the best probability of connecting successfully at the highest possible speed using the fastest band at any given time, which changes depending on the distance between the client and the broadcaster.

MLO can be a game-changer in a wireless mesh network by fortifying the Wi-Fi link between broadcasters—the backhaul—both in terms of speed and reliability. Most systems I’ve tested had the sustained wireless backhauling link over 5Gbps at 40 feet away. In systems with wired backhauling, MLO can make seamless handoff (or roaming) genuinely seamless.

For clients, in more ways than one, MLO is the best alternative to the existing so-called “Smart Connect“—using one SSID (network name) and password for all the bands of a broadcaster—which doesn’t always work as smartly as expected.

But MLO is not all perfect—a few things to keep in mind:

  • By nature, link bonding will be more complicated than single-band connectivity—there are just too many variables.
  • MLO only works with supported Wi-Fi 7 clients. Some Wi-Fi 7 clients might not support it. Considering the different performance grades and hardware variants, the result of MLO will vary case by case.
  • Wi-Fi 6E and older clients will still use a single band at a time when connecting to a MLO SSID.
  • An MLO SSID requires the WPA3 encryption method and generally won’t work with Wi-Fi 5 or older clients.
  • The reach of the bonded wireless link is as far as the range of the shorter band.

By default, the 6GHz band has just about 75% of the range of the 5GHz when the same broadcasting power is applied. That said, MLO can only be truly meaningful with the help of Wi-Fi 7’s fifth and optional feature, Automated Frequency Coordination, mentioned below.

4. Flexible Channel Utilization (FCU) and Multi-RU

Flexible Channel Utilization (FCU) (a.k.a. Preamble Puncturing) and Multi-RU are two other items that help increase Wi-Fi 7’s efficiency.

With FCU, Wi-Fi 7 handles interference more gracefully by slicing off the portion of a channel with interference, 20MHz at a time, and keeping the clean part usable.

In contrast, in Wi-Fi 6/6E, when there’s interference, an entire channel can be taken out of commission. FCU is the behind-the-scenes technology that increases the efficiency of Wi-Fi, similar to the case of MU-MIMO and OFDMA.

Similarly, with Wi-Fi 6/6E, each device can only send or receive frames on an assigned resource unit (RU), which significantly limits the flexibility of the spectrum resource scheduling. Wi-Fi 7 allows multiple RUs to be given to a single device and can combine RUs for increased transmission efficiency.

5. Automated Frequency Coordination

Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) is an optional feature. It’s not required for a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster’s general function. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned in the initial certification by the Wi-Fi Alliance, though it might be added later.

AFC applies only to the 6GHz band, which is the fastest yet has the shortest range compared to the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. Due to local regulation, this band’s availability differs around the world, so much so that there will likely be Dual-band Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters — those without the 6GHz band.

Originally, AFC was intended (and is applicable) only for outdoor applications. However, when implemented, it’s significant for all applications.

Here’s how AFC would work when/if available:

Existing applications can use a specific part of the 6GHz spectrum at any given time. A new Wi-Fi broadcaster must not impact those existing services, a concept similar to DFS channels in Wi-Fi 6 and 5.

The AFC feature enables a 6GHz broadcaster to check with a registered database in real-time to confirm that its operation will not negatively impact other registered members. Once that’s established, the broadcaster creates a dynamically exclusive environment in which its 6GHz band can operate without the constraint of regulations like the case of Wi-Fi 6E and older standards.

Specifically, the support for AFC means each Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster can use more broadcasting power and better flexible antenna designs. How much more? That depends.

However, it’s estimated that AFC can increase the broadcasting power to 36 dBm (from the current 30 dBm limit) or 4 watts (from 1 wat). The goal of AFC is to make the range of the 6GHz band comparable to that of the 5GHz band—about 25% more.

When that happens, the MLO feature above will be truly powerful. But even then, Wi-Fi 7’s range will remain the same as that of Wi-Fi 6. Its improvement is that its 6GHz band now has a more extended reach than in Wi-Fi 6E.

This feature requires certification, and its availability is expected to vary from one region to another. Hardware released before that is said to be capable of handling AFC, which, when applicable, can be turned on via firmware updates.

A crude AFC analogy

Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) is like checking with the local authorities for permission to close off sections of city streets for a drag race block party.

When approved, the usual traffic and parking laws no longer apply to the area, and the organizers can determine how fast traffic can flow, etc.

The new chips Broadcom announced today collectively support all these new features of Wi-Fi 7.

Qualcomm says its new Networking Pro Series Gen 3 “enables systems with peak aggregate wireless capacity of 33 Gbps and point-to-point connections exceeding 10 Gbps.”

The wording is the key here. Aggregate means the total bandwidth of the chip, and you can’t get a single connection at that speed. And the point-to-point rate of 10Gbps is theoretical. The sustained rate will be much lower than that.

The point is to always take what the vendor says with a grain of salt, but it is safe to say the new chips will be able to deliver Multi-Gigabit real-world rates when working with supported clients.

Like all Wi-Fi 7 devices, Qualcomm’s new chips will operate in all three existing bands, including 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz, and they will be available in Tri-band and Quad-band configurations.

Qualcomm emphasized the use of AFC in its new chips, which, when approved, affords hardware vendors more freedom in Wi-Fi broadcasting power. How this pans out, though, is still unclear.

In all, there are four new chips designed for broadcasters (routers and access points) in the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3, including:

  • Qualcomm Networking Pro 1620: A Quad-band, 16-stream, 33.1 Gbps peak wireless capacities for large environments, such as stadiums, large offices, or premium home mesh systems.
  • Qualcomm Networking Pro 1220: Tri-band, 12-stream, 21.6 Gbps peak wireless capacity for enterprise, SMB, prosumer, and premium home mesh systems.
  • Qualcomm Networking Pro 820: Quad-band, 8-stream, 13.7 Gbps peak wireless capacity for enterprise, SMB, prosumer, and premium home mesh systems.
  • Qualcomm Networking Pro 620: Tri-band, 6-stream, 10.8 Gbps peak wireless capacity for enterprise, SMB, gaming, and home mesh systems.

Again, it’s worth noting that the numbers mentioned above are the total bandwidth of each chip. The real connection speed will depend on the client and will likely be much lower.

In any case, we won’t know how any of these will pan out until there is the actual hardware that supports them.

Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3: Availability

The race is on.

Like the case of Broadcom, Qualcomm says it’s now sampling the new chips to OEM partners. If things go well, we’ll be able to find Wi-Fi 7 hardware powered by these chips sometime next year.

It’d be interesting to see which chip maker, Broadcom or Qualcomm, will first deliver on the hardware promise.

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2 thoughts on “Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3: Another Real Buzz on 10Gbps Wi-Fi 7”

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  1. Sorry think I posted it in the wrong thread the last time round.

    The first WiFi 7 home router was just announced a couple of days ago. {…}

    Reply
    • I removed the link because it looked like BS, Richard. But yes, hopefully, Wi-Fi 7 will be here sooner than expected.

      Reply

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