With CES 2022 around the corner, soon, if not already, you’ll hear a lot of rosy things about Wi-Fi 7. That’s the latest local wireless standard after the current Wi-Fi 6e.
Let’s me break it right away: It will be at least a year, likely longer, before you can get your hands on an actual Wi-Fi 7 product. And that’s despite the fact you’ll find more than one vendor “showcasing” or “demoing” the standard during CES early next year.
But there’s no rush, and we need more time to transition anyway, considering most of us haven’t even moved to Wi-Fi 6E yet, or even Wi-Fi 6 for that matter.
I’ll talk briefly about Wi-Fi 7 in this post. “Brief” because the standard’s details are still sketchy — I learned that directly from sources who have been working on it or indirectly involved.
That said, take most of what you read here with a grain of salt or consider them the general ideas. How they pan out will depend on the development process.
As usual, I’ll update this post as more concrete details become available. Before continuing, though, it’s a good idea that you brush up on Wi-Fi 6/e, which is the foundation of Wi-Fi 7.
What is Wi-Fi 7
The name alone is telling. This is the 7th generation of Wi-Fi, the most common way to get local devices connected wirelessly.
Technically, Wi-Fi 7 is the friendly name of the 802.11be standard, just like Wi-Fi 6 to 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 5 to 802.11ac, and so on. It’s much easier to remember that 7 comes after and is “better” than 6.
Like all previous Wi-Fi standards, Wi-Fi 7 will be backward compatible. In other words, your existing devices will be able to connect to a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster (router or access point), so will a Wi-Fi 7 client to a host of an older standard.
But, again, to truly enjoy the benefit of Wi-Fi 7, you likely will need new hardware on both ends of a connection. And on some computers, you might be able to do that via an add-on adapter — like how you can upgrade many existing computers to Wi-Fi 6/e.
With that, let’s find out what will make Wi-Fi 7 different.
Four key points that make Wi-Fi 7 a game-changer
In many ways, Wi-Fi 7 is the combo of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. It uses all three bands, including 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz.
(With that, keep in mind that Wi-Fi 7 will generally have similar ranges as the existing standards.)
The 6GHz band is still where the latest standard can deliver top speeds, but it will also provide unprecedented improvements in the other two bands.
In my opinion, there are four significant items in Wi-Fi 7.
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. This new width is only available on the 6GHz band, with up to three 320MHz channels.
More on Wi-Fi channels in this post, but generally, this means Wi-Fi 7 can double the base speed, from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz). So a 4×4 broadcaster can have up to 9.6Gbps of bandwidth.
Wi-Fi 7 also supports double the amount of partial streams, up to 16. As a result, technically, its 6GHz band alone can deliver up to over 40Gbps of bandwidth, considering the new QAM support below.
(To use the 320MHz channel width, you will need a compatible client. Existing clients will connect using 160MHz at best.)
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.
|Wi-Fi 6||Wi-Fi 7|
|Max Channel Bandwidth||160MHz|
(Up to 7 channels on the 6GHz band)
(Up to 3 channels on the 6GHz band)
|Highest Modulation Order||1024-QAM||4096-QAM|
|Max Number of Spatial Streams||8||16|
|Max Data Rate of the 6GHz Band|
3. Multi-Link Operation
Multi-Link Operation or MLO is by far 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 the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz, or 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, can work just within the broadcasters and is a game-changer in a wireless mesh setup. That’s because, with failover MLO, you now can count on having no signal drop or brief disconnection. And it’s also when seamless handoff (or roaming) can become truly seamless.
In many ways, 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.
Multi Resource Unit or Multi-RU is not something consumers can appreciate. It’s part of the behind-the-scene technologies that increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi, which also includes MU-MIMO and OFDMA.
In Wi-Fi 7, Multi-RU is created by “puncturing the operating channel using the 20MHz granularity”. That’s very technical, but the point is to actively avoid transmitting on frequencies that are locally unauthorized by regulation.
So, you can think of Multi-RU as a better alternative to the current way Wi-Fi 6 broadcasters deal with DFS channels, where they switch channels as radar signals become present and cause brief Wi-Fi disconnections.
The detail of Multi-RU is still unclear, but you can think of it as a new, improved method to reduce interferences and increase efficiency.
Other than these four points, Wi-Fi 7 will also have other minor improvements.
What’s more, my take is that the support for Multi-Gig wired networking, specifically the use of 10Gbps network ports, will be commonplace in Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points. That has to be the case since the wireless speeds are now too great for the Gigabit standard.
And wired Multi-Gig is great — it’s the way of the future.
In all, Wi-Fi 7 seems to be a new standard that tries to combine the fragmentations in Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e to deliver both faster speeds and truly reliable connectivity — it’s a more uniform approach to Wi-Fi. And that’s a welcome change.
But, again, though you will hear a lot about Wi-Fi 7 soon — you’re reading about it right now! — it will be at least another year, if not longer before consumer-grade devices are available to purchase. Optimistically, think 2023.
And even then, the device you get might not support all features or speeds the new standard potentially has. Wi-Fi 7 will materialize gradually.
Come to think about it, it’s been almost three years since Wi-Fi 6 became commercially available, yet today we still don’t even have clients faster than dual-stream (2×2). And there might never be one at all.
That said, as a rule, don’t wait for the latest and greatest. Buy a Wi-Fi router or mesh system that can best get you connected today. Wi-Fi 7 can wait.