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Performance improvements make Wi-Fi 7 ideal for streaming applications and for reducing congestion in crowded environments.

This week marked a milestone in the evolution of Wi-Fi 7 with the introduction of W-Fi Certified 7, a program from the Wi-Fi Alliance to drive interoperability of products that employ the standard.

Wi-Fi Certified 7 will facilitate worldwide interoperability and bring advanced Wi-Fi performance to the next era of connected devices. It is based on IEEE 802.11be technology and will be available before the end of Q1 2024, according to the alliance.

Building on Wi-Fi 7 progress last year

Last year saw chip, module, and device vendors, including Qualcomm, Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek, and CommScope, roll out products. Now, the Wi-Fi Alliance is forecasting more than 233 million Wi-Fi 7 devices to enter the market in 2024, growing to 2.1 billion devices by 2028.

One analyst called 2023 an exciting year for the overall Wireless LAN Market. “We saw record high revenues, growth of Wi-Fi traffic in the new 6 GHz band, and like a cherry on the sundae...the very first Wi-Fi 7 APs [access points] for enterprises,” explained Siân Morgan, Research Director at Dell’Oro, a global technology market research and analysis firm. “There are some new trends shaping up for 2024, and Wi-Fi 7 will be an important vector of growth.” The future looks bright. Dell’Oro predicts enterprise-class Wi-Fi 7 revenues will exceed $5 billion in 2027.

Wi-Fi 7 differentiators for the enterprise

The Wi-Fi Alliance claims Wi-Fi 7 devices already on the market support a range of new features such as higher throughput, deterministic latency, and greater reliability for critical traffic.

Performance improvements make Wi-Fi 7 ideal for streaming applications and for reducing congestion in crowded environments. As we reported in September, more users can run more bandwidth-intensive and latency-dependent applications without incurring performance problems. An enterprise can support more users with fewer APs, which translates into lower management costs.

To date, the earliest users of the previously fastest Wi-Fi version, 6E, have been owners of stadiums and indoor venues where professional sports and concerts (large, tightly packed audiences) are king.

There is some good news for users of older Wi-Fi versions on the compatibility front.

"Wi-Fi 7 certified devices and APs will be compatible with older Wi-Fi versions," confirmed Morgan. "However, only users in the countries that have attributed the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, such as in North America, most of South America, and Europe, will be able to access the new frequency. In other countries, Wi-Fi 7 will operate in the legacy bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz".

Potential Wi-Fi 7 use cases

The alliance expects the new capabilities to support new use cases, including multi-user AR/VR/XR, immersive 3-D training, electronic gaming, hybrid work, industrial IoT, and automotive.

The Wi-Fi 7 feature menu

The Wi-Fi Alliance listed the following advanced features of version 7:

  • Multi-link operation (MLO), which enables devices to transmit and receive data simultaneously over multiple links. This increases throughput, reduces latency, and improves reliability.
  • 4K QAM, which achieves 20% faster transmission rates than 1024 QAM.
  • 512 Compressed block-ack, which improves efficiency while reducing overhead.
  • 320 MHz channels, which are available in those countries where the 6 GHz band is available for Wi-Fi. The ultra-wide channels double the widest channel size to facilitate multigigabit device speeds and high throughput.
  • Multiple RUs to a single STA, which is designed to improve flexibility for spectrum resource scheduling to enhance spectrum efficiency.
  • Triggered uplink access, which is designed to optimize Wi-Fi 6, defined triggered uplink access to accommodate latency-sensitive streams and satisfy QoS requirements.
  • Emergency Preparedness Communication Services (EPCS), which is designed to provide seamless National Security & Emergency Preparedness (NSEP) service for users while also maintaining the priority and quality of service in Wi-Fi access networks.

Summarizing the capabilities, features, and potential of the technology, Kevin Robinson, Wi-Fi Alliance president and CEO, said (in a prepared statement): “The introduction of Wi-Fi Certified 7 marks the emergence of the latest generation in the evolution of wireless connectivity. This certification underscores our commitment to delivering cutting-edge technology that redefines the way users experience Wi-Fi, providing faster speeds, improved efficiency, and increased reliability, which expand the horizons of what is possible through Wi-Fi."

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Enterprises are advised to monitor broadband deployment activity at the state level as providers take advantage of funding made available in the

Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) portion of the nation's Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

As the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) portion of the president's historic $1 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act continues into 2024, enterprises should expect a slowdown in activity and progress.

First, a non-technical reason. It is a presidential election year during which Congress often becomes the opposite of progress. With the polarized parties campaigning intensely, passing bills beyond a budget to keep the lights on for more than a few months seems farfetched.

Secondly, a timing reason. Remember that only the first installment of the approved funds gets handed out early in the year, with the rest of the $42.5 billion dispersed later in the year.

What is the enterprise impact of BEAD?

“2024 will be the year that the proposals will be reviewed, and states will receive their initial 20% disbursement. So, it is best for enterprises to continue to monitor the progress of each state to understand where in the process they might fall,” explained Jeff Heynen, Vice President of Broadband Access and Home Networks for Dell’Oro Group, a market research and analysis firm. "Ultimately, I think the entire process is going to go a lot slower because of the election, continued disagreements on maps, pole attachments, etc. I see the whole BEAD process extending through 2030."

Enabling BEAD: Streamlining the pole attachment process

The FCC began efforts in mid-December to simplify, streamline, and speed up the long and arduous pole attachment process to help BEAD broadband rollouts.

These new rules will allow for faster resolution of pole attachment disputes and provide pole attachers with more detailed information about the poles they plan to use as part of their broadband buildouts. The new rules will speed up the pole attachment dispute resolution process by establishing a new intra-agency rapid response team and providing the team with specific criteria to apply when considering complaints. The Commission’s rules also will increase transparency for new broadband buildouts by allowing attachers to obtain pole inspection reports from utilities. In addition to the new rules, the Commission proposes to set defined timelines for large pole attachment applications.

In 2024, we may witness more networks transitioning underground as part of hardening efforts. While this may be more costly, it is a strategic move to enhance network resilience and minimize damage from environmental factors like storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters.

Across the nation, telephone poles are in rough shapes in many areas. They have broken over time, with utilities keeping the part in the ground and attaching newer pieces to complete the everyday structure.

More money for Middle Mile Networks

The NTIA has already awarded the $1 billion from Biden's bill to upgrade and expand this crucial infrastructure that ties access networks to a variety of backbone networks. These networks also often connect radio towers, data centers, and carrier-neutral exchange facilities. Many say additional funding will be required to achieve goals, but passing a spending bill in an election year seems nearly impossible – especially after Congress punted the national spending bill to February and failed to pass foreign aid bills in 2023.

“Subsidization of middle mile networks is intended to expand their reach into more communities so that they can deliver premium broadband services to both residential and business customers,” explained Dell’ Oro’s Heynen. “Without those networks, communities are on an island. So, they are critical infrastructure that deserves as much attention as the last mile networks themselves.”

Continued staff shortages

2023 saw a continuing discussion of the shortage of skilled staff needed to deploy the infrastructure needed to deliver broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Last year, the Fiber Broadband Association and the AT&T-Corning duo, among others, continued addressing this large challenge with promising results.

According to the government's calculations, 150,000 telecom jobs will be created by BEAD, while research by the FBA estimates the industry will need over 205,000 new jobs in the next five years. In October, the FBA and Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) teamed to cross-promote each other's workforce training undertakings.

“The Fiber Broadband Association is aggressively pursuing the goal to bring our fiber-optic training to community colleges veterans and training institutions in all 56 U.S. states and territories," explained Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the FBA. "However, it is partnerships with accomplished organizations like the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) that enable our industries to truly advance mutual initiatives to enable every community to experience the benefits of high-speed connectivity."

He stressed that achieving the BEAD goal requires much more than money. “We cannot do that without a larger technical workforce to build the networks. This partnership with WIA will help close that workforce gap.”

The road ahead for BEAD

National undertakings always face challenges, and BEAD is no exception. Monitoring developments at the state level should keep enterprises abreast of developments in 2024.

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IT leaders are increasingly turning to a Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) overlay. Here, we look into ten of the most popular SD-WAN providers.

What Is SD-WAN?

When designing a network to connect central and far-flung offices, IT leaders are increasingly turning to a Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) overlay. A software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) is a virtual WAN architecture that's service provider-agnostic. This allows enterprises to leverage any assortment of transport services to securely link to desired applications. The list of transport services includes broadband Internet, Multiprotocol Label Switching, and Long-Term Evolution (wireless).

The increasingly popular and flexible SD-WAN architecture provides a network overlay and decouples network software services from hardware-providedWAN links. SD-WAN gives you a wide array of cost-effective and versatile services with which to build and enhance your enterprise network to meet today’s ever-changing business needs.

10 SD-WAN Providers to Consider in 2024

Cisco SD-WAN Services: Catalyst and Meraki

Cisco Catalyst

Catalyst SD-WAN connects any user to any application with integrated capabilities for multicloud, security, predictive operations, and enhanced network visibility. The offering enables you to deliver network connectivity that’s cloud-agnostic, efficient, and simple to manage, lowers operational costs, and increases control and visibility.

Cisco Catalyst SD-WAN Manager provides a dashboard designed to simplify network operations. It provides centralized configuration, management, operation, and monitoring.

Cisco Catalyst SD-WAN Manager provides a dashboard designed to simplify network operations. It provides centralized configuration, management, operation, and monitoring.

Cisco Meraki

Cisco also offers Meraki SD-WAN, which is viewed as extremely user-friendly, from cloud-based network management to its template-based configuration and deployment. The Meraki cloud infrastructure is designed to be very reliable, with data centers providing redundancy to maintain uptime and performance.

A range of additional capabilities enhances the product, for example, endpoint management and integration with security cameras. Meraki SD-WAN provides comprehensive security coverage, including SASE security and additional capabilities that include an array of device management.

Through the cloud platform, Meraki offers tracking of connected devices from any site and through all types of connectivity options.

Fortinet Secure SD-WAN

The security-focused vendor delivers fast, scalable, and flexible Secure SD-WAN on-premises and in the cloud. Fortinet Secure SD-WAN supports cloud-first, security-sensitive, and global enterprises, as well as the hybrid workforce. The vendor’s Secure Networking approach uses one operating system and consolidates SD-WAN, next-generation firewall (NGFW), advanced routing, and ZTNA application gateway functions.

Fortinet Secure SD-WAN is foundational for a transition to SASE and SD-Branch. It enables organizations to protect their investment and simplify operations en route to their journey to a Zero Trust Architecture. Its SASE offering delivers a set of networking and security capabilities, including secure web gateway (SWG), universal zero-trust network access (ZTNA), dual-mode cloud access security, Firewall as a Service, and secure SD-WAN integration.

Citrix SD-WAN Service

Citrix SD-WAN service secures your hybrid workforce. Citrix SD-WAN extends the network into IaaS/PaaS clouds.

It uses deep packet inspection to identify the type of application and apply the configured firewall policy to its traffic. This integration of the firewall on the branch appliance helps reduce the unnecessary traffic getting backhauled and wasting valuable WAN resources only to be blocked at the head-end.

The Citrix SD-WAN service is designed to manage data centers and clouds through monitoring analytics and performance assurance. The SD WAN solution offers Quality of Experience monitoring, troubleshooting and management tools.

Versa Networks SD-WAN

Versa Secure SD-WAN enables network teams to remove the barriers that legacy WAN branch architectures have placed on strategic IT projects and business processes.

The vendor’s solution, powered by Versa networking and security software along with commodity hardware, offers several crucial capabilities for enterprises. Versa eliminates appliance sprawl in the branch office with a software-based approach to SD-WAN and security functions.

It is implemented at data centers, clouds, and branch sites, enhancing service agility and significantly reducing capital and operating costs. The Versa SD-WAN allows integration of essential security functions, such as next-generation firewall and secure web gateway, into network infrastructure via service chaining. The SD-WAN solution uses Zero-Touch Provisioning to simplify network setup and management.

Read more: 10 SD-WAN Providers & Solutions to Consider in 2024: An Overview