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Asus ZenWiFi Wi-Fi 7 Unveiled: Powerful BQ16 (Pro) That Has (Almost) Everything

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Asus just unveiled at CES 2024 its latest members of the popular ZenWiFi home mesh system, the BQ16 Pro and BQ16. And you guessed it, they are the first ZenWiFi to feature the latest and recently ratified Wi-Fi 7 standard.

But there’s a lot more to these new mesh systems. Or should I say system, singular?

Asus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro and BQ16
The new Asus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro (or BQ16) mesh router comes with a similar design available in previous Wi-Fi 6 and 6E hardware, such as the XT8 or ET8.

Asus Wi-Fi 7 BQ16/Pro: The most powerful ZenWiFi mesh set to date

Like the GT-BE98 Pro and the non-Pro version, the ZenWiFi BQ16, part of the new ZenWiFi BQ series, also comes in two variants: the BQ16 Pro and BQ16. The two are identical Quad-band hardware with one exception:

The BQ16 Pro comes with two 6GHz bands, and the non-Pro BQ16 has two 5GHz bands β€” they use band splitting in different frequencies. And like the case of the gaming routers, it seems Asus plans to release only the ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro to the North American market. The BQ16 variant will be made available in other regions. My take is that the 6GHz frequency is more complicated in terms of regulations (and approvals) in other parts of the world than the 5GHz band, which has been available for Wi-Fi for years. This might change as Wi-Fi 7 becomes more mature.

With that out of the way, the new mesh hardware is the most powerful to date among the family. It features top-tier Wi-Fi 7 β€” up to 30000 Mbps of total bandwidth, 320MHz channel width, 4K-QAM, Multi-Link Operation, and other goodies of the standard β€” and is the first that comes with two 10Gbps Multi-Gig ports.

A quick refresher: If you’re new to Wi-Fi 7, the cabinet below will give you a crash course on the new standard that was just ratified a couple of days ago.

Wi-Fi 7’s highlights

Wi-Fi 7 comes with five significant improvements over the previous standards.

1. The all-new 320MHz channel width

The first 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 β€” 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 β€” 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, is a way to manipulate 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 β€” such as BE19000, BE22000, or BE33000 β€” 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 β€” that’s always true for Wi-Fi 6E and older clients β€” 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 6x 160MHz 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)
β‰ˆ 2.9Gbps (at 320MHz)
β‰ˆ 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)
Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)2.4Gbps (via a 2×2 160MHz client)
1.2Gbps (via a 2×2 80MHzclient)
β‰ˆ 11.5Gbps (via a 4×4 320MHz client)
β‰ˆ 5.8Gbps (via a 2×2 320MHz client or a 4×4 160MHz client)
β‰ˆ 2.9Gbps (via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2×2 160MHz client)
β‰ˆ 1.45Gbps (via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2×2 80MHz client)
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 β€” 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.

But 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 β€” they use a single link to transmit data.

In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, MLO allows combining two or more Wi-Fi bands into a single Wi-Fi link β€” 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 specs of the hardware 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. This 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 β€” the backhaul β€” 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” β€” using one SSID (network name) and password for all the bands of a broadcaster β€” which doesn’t always work as smartly as expected.

But MLO is not all perfect β€” a few things to keep in mind:

  • MLO only works with supported Wi-Fi 7 clients. Some Wi-Fi 7 clients might not support it.
  • 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 has a range as far as that 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 keeps the clean part usable, as opposed to the case of Wi-Fi 6/6E, when there’s interference, an entire channel can be taken out of commission. FCU is the behind-the-scene 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 assigned 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 is intended (and 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 be using a specific part of the 6GHz spectrum at any given time. A new Wi-Fi broadcaster must not impact those existing services β€” 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 6GHz band’s range comparable with that of the 5GHz band β€” 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.

While it’s a bit disappointing that there are still Gigabit LAN ports (and not all Multi-Gig ports), in a wired backhauling setup, the new ZenWiFi hardware enables users to immediately build a robust multi-Gigabit network without needing a switch. Additionally, in a wireless backhauling configuration, the MLO feature can help improve the link between hardware units.

Other than that, as of right now, details of the new ZenWiFi Wi-Fi 7 hardware are still sketchy. The table below shows the currently available hardware specs.

Asus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro vs. BQ16: Hardware specifications

Asus ZenWiFi BQ 16 Pro Wi-Fi 7 Mesh SystemAsus ZenWiFi BQ 16 Wi-Fi 7 Mesh System
Asus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro and BQ16 LeftAsus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro and BQ16 Front
ModelZenWiFi BQ 16 ProZenWiFi BQ 16
Antennas13 internal
Wi-Fi BandwidthQuad-band BE30000
(2.4GHz + 5GHz + 6GHz-1 + 6GHz-2 β‰ˆ 30000Mbps)
Quad-band BE25000
(2.4GHz + 5GHz-1 + 5GHz-2 + 6GHz β‰ˆ 25000Mbps)
Modulation Scheme
(QAM)
4096-QAM (all bands)
1st Band
(Qchannel width)
2.4GHz: up to 1376Mbps
2nd Band
(channel width)
5GHz: up to 5762Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
5GHz-1: up to 5762Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
3rd Band
(channel width)
6GHz-1: up to 11,525Mbps
(20/40/80/160/320MHz)
5GHz-2: up to 5762Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4th Band
(channel width)
6GHz-2: up to 11,525Mbps
(20/40/80/160/320MHz)
6GHz: up to 11,525Mbps
(20/40/80/160/320MHz)
Network StandardsIEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b,
IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n,
IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11ax,
IEEE 802.11be, IPv4, IPv6
Network FeaturesWeb User Interface
Asus Mobile App with Smart Home Master
Mesh TechnologyAiMesh
Hardware Availability
(at launch)
2-pack of identical mesh routers
Processing Power1GB DDR4 RAM, 256MB Flash
Multi-Gig Port1x 10GBASE-T WAN/LAN,
1x 10GBASE-T LAN
Gigabit Port1x Gigabit WAN/LAN,
2x Gigabit LAN
USB Port1 x USB 3.0
Hardware ButtonsPower Switch, Reset Button
Dimensions
(each unit)
8.43 x 14.12 x 2.83 in (214 x 174.2 x 72 mm​)
WeightTBD
DC Power AdapterAC Input: 100~240 V (50~60 Hz)β€―
DCβ€―Output:β€―19V with max. 3.42A current
US Release DateQ2 2024TBD
AvailabilityNorth AmericaOther regions
US Price
(at launch)
TBDTBD
Hardware specifications: Asus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro vs. BQ16

New Asus SmartHaul and Smart Home Master

Asus says its new Wi-Fi 7 ZenWiFi hardware uses the popular AiMesh feature to be compatible with all of its existing mesh-ready hardware but now comes with some new improvements.

Specifically, the two have Asus SmartHaul, which “takes into account both fronthaul and backhaul and makes adjustments to ensure optimal performance.” Additionally, their Asus Router mobile app now comes with a Smart Home Master section that automatically sets the best default settings for Guest/IoT networks, Parental Controls, and VPN. It’s more foolproof, so to speak.

Other than that, they share the common core features available in all hardware that uses Asuswrt firmware. Consequently, you can expect a robust web user interface with lots of advanced settings, including (and not limited to):

  • Safe Browsing with DNS filters via specific servers
  • Comprehensive Parental Control and VPN feature sets
  • Advanced VLAN, similar to the case of “Pro” routers
  • AiProtection Pro with Security Scan

That said, if you’ve used an Asus router before, you’ll find yourself at home with the new Wi-Fi 7 ZenWiFi options, whichever is available where you are.

Asus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro and BQ16 FrontAsus ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro and BQ16 Port
The front and back sides of a ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro (or the BQ16) mesh router.

Availability and pricing

As mentioned, only the ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro will be available in the North American market. The BQ16 is set for elsewhere, such as the EU or Asia. Per Asus, both are slated to be available sometime in the second quarter of 2024.

It’s currently unclear how much they cost, but judging from the cost of similar mesh sets, such as the TP-Link Deco BE95, it’s my educated guess that a 2-pack ZenWiFi BQ16 Pro will go for around one thousand dollars in the US.

As the new year progresses, it’s safe to say there will be more hardware options in the Wi-Fi ZenWiFi BQ series and more standalone Asus Wi-Fi 7 routers besides the RT-BE96U and GT-BE98 Pro.

It’s time to start saving up. Check back for more.

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16 thoughts on “Asus ZenWiFi Wi-Fi 7 Unveiled: Powerful BQ16 (Pro) That Has (Almost) Everything”

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  1. Hi Dong, great review. Thanks for the update. I purchased, but I haven’t opened, an Asus ET12 based on your excellent review and recommendation. I intended to use two ET12s in a wired-backhaul configuration over Cat5e wiring.

    One thing I really wanted was a TimeMachine backup solution. Unfortunately, and as you know, the ET12 doesn’t have a USB port, but the BQ16 Pro does. Given the fact that the BQ16 Pro pricing may be similar to what I paid, do you think I should hold off a few months and get the BQ16 Pro instead? My existing Synology RT2600 with (2) MR2200 is performing well, aside from the 8 Nest Battery Cams I have, but that may be a Google Nest firmware problem.

    Reply
  2. The 1 gig ports are a shame at this price point. The lack of SFP+ too. I currently use 2 XT8 at home. I work from home and need some devices to run through VPN at times and others not. My ISP has SFP+. Right now I use a media converter. With this setup which WiFi 7 system would you recommend? Our work laptops are MacBook Pros so Ethernet is out :(. The fiber port is completely on the other side of the apartment, so a mesh might be better, or a very strong WiFi router.

    Reply
  3. Hopefully we get more specs.

    Curious though how many devices would be supported. Would it be 200+ like TP Link?

    I’ve always been a huge ASUS fan and had to move on from the AC3100 to the XE75 Pro because I have over 100 connections. The TP Link sucks.

    I’ve been waiting for this announcement. I can’t hardwire my home so I’m at the mercy of a wireless dedicated backhaul.

    The single point routers always have a better processor and more Ram so curious to see what this one will have as I’m waiting for the BQ16 Pro.

    The only thing I question is…

    Better to get this BQ16 Pro or buy two BE98 Pro’s and link through AI Mesh.

    My home is really large (6000sqft including basement) and then I want outdoor coverage and well. While I need the coverage, I need very good speed (I know hard to do without the wired backhaul).

    Any recommendations?

    Reply
  4. There is a third model BT10 which is better as it will not only be cheaper, but also have no band-splitting complicated nonsense.

    Reply
  5. I may not be the intended market for this (regular home setup with 50 or so always connected devices and 4 gamers in home; wired back haul) but I feel like the 2 5ghz bands is “currently” the better choice and I wish that version was also coming to the US.

    Reply
  6. Thanks Dong for keeping us informed. Much appreciated. I might have gone for this set, but probably not since it doesn’t have all Multi-Gig ports. Like you I am disappointed.

    Reply

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