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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/E.

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 in this post, but generally, the new channel width means Wi-Fi 7 can double the base speed, from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz).

So, in theory, a 4×4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 can have up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth — or 10Gbps when rounded up.

In reality, depending on the actual 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 amount of 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.

(We’ll likely only see 2×2 and maybe 4×4 specs on the receivers’ end with Wi-Fi 7. Existing Wi-Fi 6 and 6E so far only have seen 2×2 clients and up to 4×4 on the broadcasters.)

Again, to use the new 320MHz channel width, you will need a compatible client. 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 or 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 is always better.

As a result, Wi-Fi 7 will have a much higher speed and efficiency than previous standards when working with supported clients.

Wi-Fi 6/EWi-Fi 7
Max Channel
Bandwidth
160MHz
(Up to 3 on the 5GHz band and 7 on the 6GHz band)
320MHz
(Up to 3 channels on the 6GHz band)
Highest Modulation Order1024-QAM4096-QAM
Max Number
of Spatial Streams
816
Max Bandwidth
Per Stream
1200Mbps
(160MHz)
2400Mbps
(320MHz)
Theoretical Full Band Bandwidth9.6Gbps
(8×8)
46.1Gbps
(16×16)
Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 7: Theoretical data rates

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, 5GHz and 6GHz, into a single Wi-Fi network/connection.

The bonded link is also available in two modes: load balance or failover.

The former allows for combining the bandwidth of both bands into a single link. It’s excellent for those wanting to get the fastest possible wireless speed but requires support on the client end to work.

The latter, however, only requires support from the broadcasting side and can be a game-changer in a wireless mesh setup. With failover MLO, 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 takes place 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 of 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.

Clearly, how MLO pans out remains to be seen but there seems to be no downside to this new capability.

Wi-Fi 7 vs Wi-Fi 6 Data Rates
Wi-Fi 7 vs Wi-Fi 6: Data Rates

4. Automated Frequency Coordination

Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) applies mostly to outdoor 6GHz Wi-Fi applications, but it works indoors, too.

In an environment, there can be existing (incumbent) applications that 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.

As a newcomer, Wi-Fi (6E and 7) 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 other Wi-Fi 6E or Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters.

The support for AFC means each Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster will have its own 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 “private” airspace dependent on the current real-world situation, in which it can operate without the constraint of regulations, which is the case of Wi-Fi 6 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.

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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