“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.
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
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.
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.
This new channel width is generally 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.
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 — or 10Gbps when rounded up. But there’s more to Wi-Fi 7’s bandwidth below.
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 (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.
Going forward, 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 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 6E||Wi-Fi 7|
|Max Channel Bandwidth|
|Number of Available Channels||7x 160MHz or 14x 80MHz channels||3x 320MHz or 6x 160MHz channels|
|Max Number |
of Spatial Streams
(theoretical on paper / commercially implemented)
|8 / 4||16 / 8 (estimate)|
|1202Mbps (at 160MHz)|
600Mbps (at 80Hz)
≈ 1.45 Gbps (at 160MHz)
|Max Band Bandwidth|
(theoretical on paper)
|Commercial Max Band Bandwidth Per Band|
|Actual Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)||2402Mbps|
(via a 2×2 160MHz client )
(via a 2×2 80MHzclient)
|≈ 11.5Gbps |
(via a 4×4 320MHz client)
(via a 2×2 320MHz client or a 4×4 160MHz client)
(via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2×2 160MHz client)
(via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2×2 80MHz client)
(*) 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 2×2 clients. Wi-Fi 7 will also use 2×2 clients initially, but it might have 4×4 and even single-stream (1×1) clients.
3. Multi-Link Operation
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.
In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, MLO allows combining two Wi-Fi bands, mostly 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.
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.
But MLO is not all perfect — a few things to keep in mind:
- MLO only works with Wi-Fi 7 clients. Older clients, such as Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, will still use a single band at a time when connecting to a MLO SSID.
- MLO requires the WPA3 encryption method and generally won’t work with Wi-Fi 5 or older clients.
- The reach of the combined link (of 5GHz and 6GHz) is as far as the range 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 next feature, Automated Frequency Coordination.
4. Automated Frequency Coordination
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) applies only to the 6GHz band, which is the fastest yet the shortest range compared to the 5GHz and 2.4GHz. It’s an optional feature — it’s not required for the general function of a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster.
At any given time, there can be existing applications already using the spectrum. For example, fixed satellite services (FSS) or broadcast companies might have already had called dibs on certain parts of the 6GHz band. A new Wi-Fi broadcaster must not impact those existing services — a concept similar to DFS channels in Wi-Fi 6 and 5.
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. Once that’s established, the broadcaster creates a dynamically exclusive environment in which it 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 power and better flexible antenna designs. How much more? That depends.
But it’s estimated that AFC can bring the broadcasting power up to 36 dBm (from the current 30 dBm max) or 4 watts (from 1 wat). It’s safe to say AFC will help the 6GHz band to have a comparable range to the 5GHz band — about 25% more.
Before you get all excited, this feature requires certification, and its availability is expected to vary from one region to another. It won’t be available in the US before late 2023, if not after. All hardware released before that is said to be capable of handling AFC, which 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.
Wi-Fi 7’s other improvements
On top of that, Wi-Fi 7 will also have other improvements, including the support for Flexible Channel Utilization (FCU).
In the case of Wi-Fi 6/6E, when there’s interference, an entire channel can be taken out of commission. 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.
FCU is the behind-the-scene technology that increases the efficiency of Wi-Fi, similar to the case of MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
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.