Wi-Fi 7 is the latest Wi-Fi standard on the block. So what does it include? Will it offer a higher maximum data rate over what’s currently available? Do you need to get a new wireless router?
Here, we attempt to answer these questions and address the performance improvements Wi-Fi 7 stands to offer on your home Wi-Fi network.
It uses the same three frequency bands as Wi-Fi 6E… with much higher data throughput.
Wi-Fi 7 builds on many of the improvements that Wi-Fi 6E brought to the table, most notably an expanded suite of operating bands.
That increase allowed for massively higher bandwidth compared to Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 5, also known as 802.11ac, only used the 5 GHz frequency band — which is now cluttered with devices competing for a limited number of channels.
Not only that, radar systems rely on the 5GHz band too. Because these systems (used at, e.g., airports and weather stations) take priority, home network performance on this band can suffer.
While Wi-Fi 6 opened up the 2.4 Ghz band — useful for low-power internet of things (IoT) devices — WiFi 6E changed the game by introducing the 6 GHz band to access points (APs) and clients (mobile devices and laptops). This band offers lots of Wi-Fi-exclusive space, including seven 160 MHz channels (up from two on the 5 Ghz band).
Wi-Fi 7 advances things further by doubling the channel width to 320 Mhz on the 6 Ghz band. That new feature, paired with some other enhancements we talk about below, can more than quadruple the theoretical maximums of a Wi-Fi connection on a Wi-Fi 7 device: from 9.6 Gbps on Wi-Fi 6/6E to 46 Gbps.
It allows devices to have more antennas than ever.
One of those enhancements in Wi-Fi 7 is a big jump in concurrent spatial streams: from 8 to 16.
This is made possible by an increase in Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO) data lanes. With multi-user MIMO, multiple transmitting and receiving antennas are deployed to maintain a continuous signal between transmitters and receivers. It’s not a new technology — even Wi-Fi 5 had MU-MIMO on downlink connections — but it’s been steadily enhanced over the years.
From 8 data lanes on Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 offers 16: for connections with up to 16 devices on every stream. That’s why the theoretical maximum speed of the latter is so much higher than the former.
And these theoretical maximums don’t tell the whole story. Individual client device performance should be much higher on this new Wi-Fi generation, with Wi-Fi router becoming more responsive and offering higher speeds even during times of network congestion.
It allows for more efficient bandwidth allocation.
Helping to explain why Wi-Fi 7 will feel much speedier is another enhancement called Multi-Link Operation, or MLO. On Wi-Fi 6/6E networks, APs can only use a single channel on a single band (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, or 6 GHz) to connect to clients. MLO will allow routers and wireless devices to leverage multiple bands and channels at the same time, as a single connection.
This improvement will result in reduced latency, better network utilization, and higher reliability in the transmission of data packets.
Yet another enhancement in Wi-Fi 7 is in the way data packets are translated into analog signals for broadcast. Wi-Fi 6/6E can transmit 10 bits of data per modulation symbol, a technology known as 1024-QAM. (QAM is short for Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, and 1024 is 2 to the 10th power).
On Wi-Fi 7, each symbol can carry 12 bits of data (4096/4K QAM, or 2 to the 12th power) — for a 20% increase in the data rate on the new standard.
Like 6G, it will enable many kinds of new experiences.
Compared to its predecessor wireless standards, Wi-Fi 7 will allow for faster speeds, better multi-device WiFi connections, and much lower latency on compatible devices.
All of that combined should result in much richer digital experiences: virtual reality gaming from anywhere, extended-reality (XR) presentations and interactions, and 4K or 8K content streams (think cloud gaming in 8K).
These new experiences will be possible without network interruptions, even if others in your household are gaming or streaming content, thanks to Wi-Fi 7’s wider channels and unmatched ability to maintain connections with multiple devices.
What’s even more exciting are the new technologies that Wi-Fi 7 will open up. Imagine low-cost new devices in the IoT category offering precise monitoring and management of environmental conditions. Incredible new apps that extend the functionality of your smartphone. Or live broadcasts of content (like sporting events) enhanced with analytics features that you can customize.
Really, the sky will be the limit with Wi-Fi 7 — especially when paired with 6G. For the first time, we’ll have truly global networks for communication, interaction, public safety, medicine, and more.
Despite all of these benefits, it might be too early to upgrade.
Are you sold on this new generation of WiFi technology with its faster connections and higher throughput? Well, you may just want to hold your horses on an upgrade.
While a handful of Wi-Fi 7 APs are available now, they’re expensive. More importantly, there aren’t any Wi-Fi-7-capable client devices on the market. Some devices with Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7800 system-on-a-chip do theoretically have Wi-Fi 7 support, but it’s not currently active (an example being the OnePlus 11 smartphone).
The reason for that is that the Wi-Fi 7 standard hasn’t yet been officially finalized by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Part of why you’re hearing about it now is simply device manufacturers looking to build hype.
As HighSpeedInternet.com points out, Wi-Fi 5 followed a similar pattern of jumping the gun several years ago. “We saw ‘Wave 1’ devices arrive in stores before the Wi-Fi 5 spec was even finalized, followed by ‘Wave 2’ devices three years after Wi-Fi 5 went gold,” the website says.
Expect Wi-Fi 7 to be finally final sometime in 2024. Until then, your best bet is to keep using the network tech you have, bearing in mind that Wi-Fi 6E should be plenty fast for every current application.
Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash.