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CommScope Unveils SURFboard G54: DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem Now Gets Wi-Fi 7

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"Did somebody say Wi-Fi 7?"

And with that, CommScope -- the owner of the ARRIS and its Surfboard brands since late 2018 -- today announced the flagship SURFboard G54 DOCSIS 3.1 Quad-band Wi-Fi 7 Cable Modem.

The new device will likely be the most powerful of its type on the market when available for purchase. And with it, CommScope has shown its continued intention to be one of the first vendors in the retail Wi-Fi market.

In late 2019, the company was one of the first to release Wi-Fi 6 mesh hardware, the SURFboard mAX series.

Arris SURFboard G54 Kitchen
The SURFboard G54 seems compact enough for a robust Internet gateway.

SURFboard G54: First Multi-Gig Wi-Fi 7 Cable gateway

There are some noteworthy things about the SURFboard G54 cable "modem".

First, it's the company's first Wi-Fi 7 device, which is significant.

And secondly, it's a misnomer. Technically, the SURFboard G54 is a lot more than a"modem". It's a gateway that's generally a box that includes a Cable modem and a Wi-Fi 7 router. But, it's not exactly wrong to it a modem, either, and, as the maker, the vendor can name a product whatever it pleases.

If you follow my work, you'd note how I've been so tired of folks calling "modem," "router," and "gateway" interchangeably. It's super confusing and can cause issues when troubleshooting a home network.

That triviality aside, here's the third and final noteworthy thing about the G54: It has impressive hardware specs.

SURFboard G54: Preliminary hardware specifications

Like all Wi-Fi 7 hardware recently announced, the SURFboard G54 is still early in development, so its details are still sketchy. The photos you see here alone seem to be artists' renderings which might or might not be the same as the final product.

Still, the new gateway is impressive if we take CommScope's word at face value. Specifically, the router portion sports Quad-band Wi-Fi with a total bandwidth of 17880Mbps (BE17880).

It's still unclear how much bandwidth each band of the gateway has but here is what the company says about its Wi-Fi bands:

  • 2.4 GHz band for IoT and low-bandwidth devices
  • 5 GHz low band for Wi-Fi 5 devices
  • 5 GHz high band for Wi-Fi 6/7 devices
  • 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6E/7 devices 

The SURFboard G54's hardware is similar to the Asus GT-BE98 or the TP-Link Archer BE900. It's worth noting that these devices are still months from being available for purchase.

And apart from the F-Connector (for Cable Internet,) the G54 also has a 10GbE Multi-Gig port and four Gigabit LAN ports to host wired clients.

It's disappointing that the new hardware has only one Multi-Gig port -- you won't be able to enjoy this port's speed unless you have 10GbE broadband which is not currently available in the world of Cable Internet.

But you can use this port to host a superfast server to deliver concurrent full Gigabit connections to four wired clients and Wi-Fi devices.

Arris SURFboard G54 lightArris SURFboard G54 back
The front and back of the SURFboard G54 -- note its F-Connector and the 10GbE LAN port.

As a Wi-Fi 7 device, it features all the goodies of the new standards. (Details of Wi-Fi 7 are still not yet finalized, but the drawer below will give you some highlights.)

Wi-Fi 7 in brief

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.

Organically, this new channel width is only available on the 6GHz band, with up to three 320MHz channels. However, Wi-Fi 7 can combine portions of the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to create this new bandwidth -- more in the Multi-Link Operation section below.

I detailed Wi-Fi channels 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 4x4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 can have up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth -- or 10Gbps when rounded up.

Depending on the configuration, Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points will be available in different speed grades, including those offering bandwidths higher or lower than 10Gbps on the 6GHz band.

Wi-Fi 7 also supports double the partial streams, up to 16. As a result, technically, a 16-stream (16x16) Wi-Fi 7 6GHz band can deliver up to over 40Gbps of bandwidth, especially when considering the new QAM support below.

We'll likely only see dual-stream (2x2) and maybe quad-stream (4x4) specs on Wi-Fi 7 receivers and up to 8x8 on broadcasters. But there's a chance we'll find single-stream clients since that's already fast enough in most cases.

Existing Wi-Fi 6 and 6E have only seen 2x2 clients and up to 4x4 on the broadcasters.

Again, you need a compatible client to use the new 320MHz channel width. Existing clients will connect using 160MHz at best. And 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 have a much higher speed and efficiency 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.

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
Max Bandwidth
Per Stream
(theoretical)
1202Mbps (at 160MHz)
600Mbps (at 80Hz)
β‰ˆ 2.9Gbps
(at 320MHz)
β‰ˆ 1.45 Gbps (at 160MHz)
Max Band Bandwidth
(theoretical on paper)
9.6Gbps
(8x8)
46.1Gbps
(16x16)
Commercial Max Band Bandwidth Per Band
(commercially implemented)
4804Mbps
(4x4)
23Gbps
(8x8)
Actual Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)2402Mbps
(via a 2x2 160MHz client )
1201Mbps
(via a 2x2 80MHzclient)
β‰ˆ 11.5Gbps
(via a 4x4 320MHz client)
β‰ˆ 5.8Gbps
(via a 2x2 320MHz client or a 4x4 160MHz client)
β‰ˆ 2.9Gbps
(via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2x2 160MHz client)
β‰ˆ 1.45Gbps
(via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2x2 80MHz client)
Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 7: Theoretical data rates on the 6GHz band
(*) The real-world sustained speeds depend on the client and environment and generally are much lower than negotiated speeds. Wi-Fi 6/6E has had only 2x2 clients. Wi-Fi 7 will also use 2x2 clients but might have 4x4 and even single-stream (1x1) clients.

Multi-Link Operation, or MLO, is the most exciting and promising feature of Wi-Fi 7.

In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, MLO allows combining two Wi-Fi bands, such as 5GHz and 6GHz, into a single Wi-Fi network (SSID) and connection. The bonded link delivers higher bandwidth and reliability.

MLO only works at its full potential with Wi-Fi 7 clients, and in this case, it can be a game-changer in a wireless mesh network. We can potentially count on having no signal drop or brief disconnection. And it's also when seamless handoff (or roaming) can become truly seamless.

On top of that, on each band, a connection can also intelligently pick the best channel, or channel width, in real-time. In other words, it can channel-hop, just like Bluetooth, though likely less frequently.

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.

This new capability will help increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi 7's range, allowing all its bands to deliver faster speed over longer distances than previous standards.

In more ways than one, MLO is the best alternative to the existing so-called "Smart Connect" -- using the same SSID (network name) and password for all the bands of a broadcaster -- which doesn't always work as smartly as expected.

One Plus 11 5G Wi Fi information MLO
Here are the Wi-Fi setting pages of the One Plus 11 5G. Note how it has the new "Dual Wi-Fi acceleration." Also, a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster, shown here are those of the TP-Link Deco BE85, will have a separate MLO network in addition to the existing traditional network for backward compatibility.

It's important to note, however, that MLO will generally not support Wi-Fi 5 and older client since it requires a WPA3 encryption method. Additionally, for Wi-Fi 6 clients, this new feature remains similar to Smart Connect -- the client will connect to one band at a time within the common SSID.

4. Automated Frequency Coordination

Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) applies to the 6GHz band.

In an environment, existing applications can already use the spectrum. For example, fixed satellite services (FSS) or broadcast companies might have already had licenses to use certain parts of the band.

A new Wi-Fi (6E and 7) broadcaster must not impact those existing services -- a concept similar to the use of DFS channels in the 5GHz band.

That's when AFC comes into play. The idea is that all new 6GHz broadcasters check with a registered database in real-time to confirm their operation will not negatively impact other registered members, including existing Wi-Fi 6E or Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters.

The support for AFC means each Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster will have its free airspace to operate, meaning vendors can use more power and more flexible antenna designs.

In short, AFC compliance will help a Wi-Fi broadcaster improve range and connection speeds by preemptively creating a dynamically exclusive environment dependent on the current real-world situation, in which it can operate without the constraint of regulations, like the case of Wi-Fi 6E and older standards.

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.

Still, AFC works best when there is enough air space for the number of broadcasters in a particular location at any given time. This feature requires certification and is expected not to be immediately available with the first round of pre-certified Wi-Fi 7 routers which will likely get it via firmware updates.

And on the WAN side, CommScope says the G54 supports DOCSIS 3.1, capable of receiving Multi-Gigabit Internet from a supported Cable Internet service provider.

Availability and pricing

CommScope says the new SURFboard G54 DOCSIS 3.1 Quad-band Wi-Fi 7 Cable Modem will be available mid-2023, with pricing released closer to the launch.

But there's no rush. Generally, consumers won't be able to enjoy Wi-Fi 7 until devices supporting this standard are available, which's likely not before the end of the year.

In the meantime, I'll update this post when more information becomes available. Check back for more.

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3 thoughts on “CommScope Unveils SURFboard G54: DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem Now Gets Wi-Fi 7”

  1. Hi Dong,

    I have read various reviews you have posted and by the way they are very informative. I currently have been using for about 8 years TP Link 7650 modem with Netgear Nighthawk R7000p. Currently have about 25 devices online. I was having random issues with losing connection on certain devices but after some research it seems to be related to NUMIMO and after disabling it I haven’t seen a drop in connection. The farthest section if the house I still have 82% 175Mbps. Currently subacribe to 300 Mbps but plan to upgrade to either 500 or q Gig.
    Connection in the basement and 2nd floor are fine. The home is not hard wired. After reading several reviews, I think its timr to upgrade but still debating between Asus ET12, XT12, AXE-16000, or should i consider the cable modem combo in this review when its out. one of your reviews, you mentioned is best to have separate router and modem so i’m wondering if you still believe the same theory with this Surboard 54.

    Reply

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