The need to access Wi-Fi networks and above all do so with guaranteed reliability, with the reassurance of not suffering breaks in Internet connection, will grow over the coming decades. Beyond the current uses of Wi-Fi networks in domestic, commercial or industrial environments, it is expected that in the future accessing them with assured reliability will be fundamental for the automation and robotization of industrial processes, and even of medical interventions, or for the development of the metaverse.
In such a scenario, researchers from the UPF Department of Information and Communication Technologies ( DTIC ) and of the team of Nokia Bell Labs in Germany are jointly investigating in order to address the challenges that will arise from the use of Wi-Fi networks in the future. As a benchmark, their work uses the research already embarked upon for this purpose by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) and makes new contributions on the subject.
The IEEE is a global association of engineers dedicated to standardization and development in technical areas, and is responsible for updating Wi-Fi protocols. It has currently begun working on the definition of the system that will constitute the foundations of Wi-Fi 8, technically known as IEEE 802.11bn. In parallel, the IEEE is finalizing the previous protocol (Wi-Fi 7), which has not yet been marketed, but is expected to go to market in 2024. With Wi-Fi 7, there will already be a great improvement in the performance of wireless networks, and the protocol currently under development (Wi-Fi 8) aims to go yet further, especially from the point of view of reliability.
In relation to next-generation Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 8), a recent article summarizes the results of the joint research by the DTIC-UPF and Nokia Bell Labs, together with the work carried out by the IEEE on this matter. Published on the ArXiV platform, it is titled "What Will Wi-Fi 8 Be? A Primer on IEEE 802.11bn Ultra High Reliability" . On the part of the DTIC-UPF, Giovanni Geraci , of the Wireless & Secure Communications Group (DTIC-UPF), and Marc Carrascosa co-author the article together with Boris Bellalt a, of the Wireless Networking (WN) Group. For Nokia Bell Labs in Germany, the co-author of the article is Lorenzo Galati-Giordano. The article sets out the features of next generation Wi-Fi, whose main objectives will be to achieve UHR (Ultra High Reliability) wireless networks.
What challenges does the development of new generation Wi-Fi 8 entail?First of all, a new coordination framework of multiple Wi-Fi access points must be generated to increase the efficiency of use of the electromagnetic spectrum. This would tend to eliminate interference between Wi-Fi signals from different access points (such as routers), which still occurs today, and reduce latency. This concept alludes to the time that a Wi-Fi access point has to wait to start emitting its signals so that they do not cross those emitted from other access points.
In relation to this first challenge, Giovanni Geraci of the Wireless & Secure Communications Group (DTIC-UPF) explains: "How many of us have complained at least once that Wi-Fi doesn’t work in crowded places? Together with other researchers, we propose a new function called ’coordinated beamforming’ for next-generation Wi-Fi. This new feature takes advantage of multiple antennas so that nearby devices are mutually ’invisible’ and can transmit signals simultaneously without any interference between them and reduce latency by up to 90%. It’s as if several conversations were taking place in the same room simultaneously without disturbing each other".
Second, it will be necessary for next-generation devices to operate in higher bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Currently, commercially available devices can operate in two bands below 7 GHZ (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). When Wi-Fi 7 is marketed, it will be able to do so in a further band (6 GHz). With Wi-Fi 8, we will have to go further and consider the use of the 45 and 60 GHz bands.
Thirdly, the challenge is to use artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning, to optimize and increase the efficiency of the operation of one or more Wi-Fi access points. For example, thanks to machine learning, Wi-Fi access points could decide in which frequency band to emit their signal in each case, depending on the uses of the electromagnetic spectrum in each specific context. Protocols driven by AI and machine learning could prevent undesirable phenomena such as delayed Wi-Fi signal emission. But to advance further in this field, the researchers would need to be able to access a wider range of data statistics, which would cross-reference information from different providers.
Artificial intelligence can help Wi-Fi networks optimize their decision-making capacityIn this regard, Boris Bellalta , director of the Wireless Networking (WN) Group at the DTIC-UPF, explains: "The challenge of providing assured reliability in Wi-Fi networks is highly complex because they operate in free bands and the consequent need to coexist with other external networks. In this context, we are investigating new solutions based on the use of artificial intelligence with the aim of providing Wi-Fi networks with decision-making capacity and making it easier for the Wi-Fi network itself to find solutions capable of ensuring the required services".
The evolution of Wi-Fi networks and future prospectsSince their origins in the late 20th century, Wi-Fi networks have greatly evolved. Over the past 25 years, data transmission rates over Wi-Fi networks have risen from 1 Mbps (megabit per second) to 30 Gbps (or 30,000 Mbps). This increase in data transmission speed has been associated with an increase in the use of wireless networks. If initially they were only used to connect to email or surf the Internet, today they are present in spaces with a large influx of people who need to connect to the network (coworking spaces, airports...) and millions of people also use them to make video calls. Currently, Wi-Fi technologies account for two-thirds of the world’s mobile traffic. In addition, during the covid pandemic, the need to connect to Wi-Fi networks increased exponentially.
Challenges and applications of Wi-Fi networks in the futureThe main challenge of the future to meet the new needs of Wi-Fi networks is to improve the assurance of reliability to avoid interrupted Internet connections. Improving reliability is a challenge for any technology intended to be affordable, ubiquitous, and to operate in licence-exempt bands subject to uncontrolled interference. The need to tackle this challenge is fundamental, especially to implement Wi-Fi networks in industrial and productive environments or in the public services and community health care of the future.
Some examples of applications that will require Wi-Fi 8 UHR are industrial automation processes, digital twinning (construction of a dynamic digital system that reproduces a physical system and evolves parallel to it), telepresence (which allows telematic conferences accompanied by virtual reality, so that people who participate from different physical locations are seen to be in the same space), robotic medical operations, or the metaverse. It should be borne in mind that the holographic communications (representing 3D images using light) required to build the virtual universe of the metaverse require reliable, delay-free connection to the network. Otherwise, and even if any delays affect the transmission of a tiny percentage of data packets, they can lead to stressful situations for their users.