The numbers for 2021 are in, and if there’s any doubt about the role Wi-Fi
plays in modern life, consider this statistic: there are now at least two
Wi-Fi devices for every person on the planet. The global population currently
sits at near 7.9 billion, but the Wi-Fi Alliance
reports there were 16.4 billion Wi-Fi devices in use last year.
The Latest Generation is Scaling Quickly
The Wi-Fi Alliance reports 2021 device shipments as well and it's impressive
to see how quickly the latest generation of Wi-Fi is ramping up. In 2021, a
total of 4.2 billion Wi-Fi devices were shipped and, of those, 2.2 billion
(52%) were Wi-Fi 6 and 338 million (8%) were Wi-Fi 6E.
In other words, only two years after its release in 2019, Wi-Fi 6 is already a
well-established standard, representing just over half of all new Wi-Fi
devices, and only months after the new 6 GHz , bands (used by Wi-Fi 6E) were
made available, Wi-Fi 6E devices began shipping in high volumes.
The rapidly increasing global value of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi 6/6E is Transformative Technology
It’s easy enough to understand why Wi-Fi 6 is taking off. Increased overall
performance – with faster top speeds and better management of dense, crowded
networks – plus the availability of new spectrum is a powerful combination. It
means familiar experiences like video streaming and gaming get a boost, and a
new generation of impressive applications, requiring high bandwidth and low
latency, are now within reach.
The deployment of 5G cellular is another factor in Wi-Fi 6 growth. Wi-Fi 6 and
5G are complementary technologies and use many of the same techniques,
including OFDMA and MU-MIMO transmission. When 5G mobile devices move indoors,
where 5G signals may not be as strong, they can switch to Wi-Fi 6 without
interrupting the workflow. That’s an essential feature for many of the most
ambitious 5G applications – like autonomous vehicles, healthcare monitoring,
smart manufacturing – which need uninterrupted connectivity, indoors and out,
for seamless operation. The Wi-Fi Alliance reports that 63% of mobile traffic
was offloaded to Wi-Fi in 2021, indicating that nearly two thirds of cellular
sessions take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots to keep mobile devices connected. As
5G continues its rollout, that number will only go up.
Wi-Fi 6/6E is More Challenging for Designers
From a design standpoint, increased capability comes at the price of increased
complexity, and upgrading from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6 can be a hard transition for
any engineer. The MU-MIMO feature, for example, gets an upgrade in Wi-Fi
6—moving from unidirectional operation to bidirectional, so designers have to
deal with the uplink as well as the downlink capabilities. Similarly, where
Wi-Fi 5 employs single-user orthogonal frequency division (OFDM), Wi-Fi 6
upgrades it to a multi-user format (OFDMA), which can be trickier to manage
For designers of mobile systems, though, the biggest challenge is likely to be
the upgrade to higher-order quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) and
bandwidth. Moving from the 256 QAM of Wi-Fi 5 to the 1024 QAM of Wi-Fi 6
translates to better throughput, and up to 25% higher capacity, with ten bits
per symbol instead of eight. Combined with the move from 80 MHz maximum
channel bandwidth to 160 MHz and the extension of the band up to 7.125 GHz,
this demands much higher performance from the RF portion of the system.
Getting the right level of performance can require a high degree of technical
Wi-Fi 6 wireless high-speed internet connection
RF optimization is a notoriously difficult task under the best of
circumstances, but the more rigorous requirements of Wi-Fi 6 make optimization
all the more challenging. The tolerances are much tighter, so even tiny
adjustments can significantly alter the Wi-Fi signal, performance and power
efficiency of the total line-up.
To avoid getting bogged down by the intricacies of RF optimization, design
teams save time and effort by using pre-integrated RF products, called
front-end modules (FEMs). FEMs are purpose-built solutions that complete the
RF chain. Placed between the antenna and the connectivity System-on-Chip (SoC)
of the wireless system, the FEM is a purpose-built solution that completes the
RF chain and boosts its overall performance. In premium mobile Wi-Fi 6/6E
systems, it’s one of the most important parts of the design.
Benefits of a FEM
FEMs save time while enabling a better design. Everything is supplied in one
small, highly integrated solution, so design-in is faster. The placement
flexibility of the single FEM parts means that every section of the RF chain
can be fully optimized. The integrated RF amplifiers boost weak incoming
signals without significant impact to noise performance, so the RF chain is
more sensitive and better able to select from multiple input signals. On the
transmit (TX) side, NXP FEMs boost the power levels of the signals that are
being transmitted in a highly efficient manner, so that also in the uplink the
performance is significantly improved and the transmission range is extended.
Group of students experiencing Wi-Fi 6/6E on portable devices
First to Move from Dual to Single FEMs
The first FEMs for Wi-Fi 6/6E, including those offered by NXP, were dual FEMs.
Each FEM was equipped with two monolithic front-end ICs. Our
family, for example, introduced in mid-2020, put two front-end ICs into a
single QFN package that measured 3 mm x 4 mm.
RF designs don’t stand still for long, though, and our engineers are always
working to top their own achievements. Just eight months after the WLAN8101x
family became available, we broke new ground by being first with a single
Wi-Fi 6E FEM. The
WLAN7205C, designed for use in smartphones, was the industry’s first single-channel
Wi-Fi 6 solution to offer a monolithic integrated power amplifier (PA), switch
and low noise amplifier (LNA) in a 2 mm x 2 mm QFN package.
Compared to the dual-IC WLAN8101x, which requires a bigger package, the
single-IC WLAN7205C can be placed even closer to the antenna. That reduces
post-FEM trace losses and improves performance. Low post-PA losses deliver the
best possible Tx efficiency, and low pre-LNA losses maximize the Rx
sensitivity. Closer placement to the antenna also improves range, increases
battery life and enables faster data transmission.
Another NXP First
Now, NXP is taking single FEMs to the next level, with the
WLAN7207C (5-7 GHz) and
WLAN7207H (2.4 GHz and Bluetooth). Optimized for use in the latest smartphones, these
fully integrated FEMs offer exceptionally high linearity and support low-power
modes. They require no external matching components for a design that is more
compact, more cost-effective and easier to finalize. They offer three Tx
operating modes per band, enabling better fine-tuning of power efficiency, and
two Rx operating modes, enabling a gain step between LNA mode and bypass mode.
Best of all, they use tiny packages. The WLAN7207C is housed in a 2 mm x 2 mm
HWFLGA16 package, while the WLAN7207H is in an HFCPLGA18 package that measures
just 2.4 mm x 2.0 mm.
Like our other Wi-Fi FEMs, the WLAN7207x series is produced in our industry
leading QUBiC SiGe:C BiCMOS technology, works very efficiently and helps to
ensure Wi-Fi signals experience only minimal degradation in terms of noise,
distortion and spurious signals.
Enhance Wi-Fi 6/6E performance using our WLAN7207C and WLAN7207H products in
Better Smartphone Experiences
Smartphones that integrate the WLAN7207x series will improve Wi-Fi performance
with little effect on battery life. Signals remain linear and easy to manage,
for higher data rates and longer range. That translates into a more consistent
experience, since activities like video calls, made on the go, will benefit
from a more reliable connection. At the same time, the high-efficiency of the
RF chain means that this performance improvement is achieved with little
impact to battery life.
Looking Ahead to Wi-Fi 7
The WLAN7207x series reflects the latest capabilities of high-performance RF
design, but it also prepares developers for what’s next. The IEEE is already
working on Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be), and the Wi-Fi Alliance predicts Wi-Fi 7 will
begin availability as early as 2023. Wi-Fi 7 is expected to build further on
the successes of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, using all three bands in even more
advanced ways (2.4/5/6 GHz). Therefore, the WLAN7207 series, with its Wi-Fi
6/6E support, is a natural bridge for designs that will, soon enough,
transition to Wi-Fi 7.
Take the Next Step
To learn more about our Wi-Fi 6/6E solutions, and the WLAN7207x in particular,
visit our dedicated pages for
WLAN Front-End ICs and Modules.