Get ready to update your web browsers, folks, because Wi-Fi is on the verge of another upgrade. Believe it or not, just four years after the introduction of Wi-Fi 6 and two years after Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 is taking the spotlight. As someone who started their career reviewing routers, I must admit I’m feeling a bit fatigued.
However, let’s get serious for a moment, Wi-Fi 7 has the potential to deliver an even more significant speed boost compared to Wi-Fi 6E, partly due to the expanded 6GHz band that 6E opened up. It’s also set to introduce innovative techniques for accelerating data transfer and addressing interference, ultimately reducing network latency.
You might find these features familiar because both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E were renowned for their interference mitigation capabilities, and Wi-Fi 6E, in particular, was celebrated for its enhanced speed, provided you had a compatible device.
If the thought of replacing all your devices in exchange for a reliable network doesn’t sit well with you, the reassuring aspect is that Wi-Fi 7 will remain compatible with your older gadgets.
As you gradually upgrade your smartphones, computers, and other wireless devices to ones that embrace this latest standard, you can expect significant improvements in various aspects. The question of whether you should invest in a Wi-Fi 7 router immediately or hold off for a while is a separate consideration.
What is Wi-Fi 7?
You can think of Wi-Fi 7 as being to Wi-Fi 6E what Wi-Fi 6 was to Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 7 is like the next step after Wi-Fi 6E, which itself was an improvement over Wi-Fi 5. Both Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 use the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz bands for connections.
However, Wi-Fi 7 stands out because it can provide more room for data, making downloads faster. It also does a clever trick where it combines connections across these bands, so downloads happen faster and your internet stays more stable. Wi-Fi 7 also uses some smart techniques to handle internet traffic jams better.
You might hear about Wi-Fi 7 being great for 8K video streaming, but honestly, even if 8K streaming becomes common, most new routers should handle it just fine.
The best thing about Wi-Fi 7 is its speed. It’s really fast!
Will Wi-Fi 7 offer improved speed?
Absolutely, it will. According to Intel, a “typical” Wi-Fi 7 laptop has the potential to achieve a maximum speed of nearly 5.8Gbps, although this is a theoretical figure. Even reaching half of that speed would be quite impressive for most users.
Wi-Fi 7 gets faster mainly because it widens the “data pipeline,” which is like the highway for your internet traffic. It’s like upgrading from a narrow road to a super-wide highway. In Wi-Fi 7, this super-wide highway can be 320MHz wide, while older Wi-Fi versions, like 5, 6, and 6E, only have a 160MHz-wide road. But here’s the catch: you can only use this super-wide highway in the 6GHz band because the 5GHz band is too narrow.
Now, Wi-Fi 7 also has a neat feature called Multi-Link Operation (MLO). It’s like combining two roads into one, making your internet even faster.
For example, if you can download stuff at 1Gbps on the 6GHz road and 700Mbps on the 5GHz road, merging them together could give you a speed of up to 1.7Gbps. Plus, if one road has problems, your internet can switch to the other one. We’ll know more about how well this works when they test Wi-Fi 7 routers and devices together.
Another thing in Wi-Fi 7 is that it’s really good at talking to multiple devices at the same time. In Wi-Fi 6, you could have a router talk to eight devices at once, but in Wi-Fi 7, it can chat with 16 devices all at the same time.
But don’t get too excited because even some fancy Wi-Fi 6E routers only talk to four devices at once, even though Wi-Fi 6E can handle more. Plus, it’s not easy to find phones, laptops, and other devices that are better than talking to just two devices at the same time.
Will Wi-Fi 7 Make Smart Home Reliable?
Over the years, smart home technology has improved, yet devices can still experience delays or become unresponsive, especially in a congested wireless environment. The Wi-Fi 7 specification includes features that may potentially address this issue in the future.
One of the issues with wireless communication is that your router can only talk to one device at a time. So, if it’s busy chatting with one gadget, all the others have to wait their turn. This waiting time is very short, just a fraction of a second, but when lots of devices are trying to talk to the router, it can add up. When your smart home gadgets seem slow, it’s because they’re queuing up, waiting for their chance to connect.
Wi-Fi 7 tackles this problem by being smarter about how it sends data. It’s like fitting more stuff into each message your router sends. Wi-Fi 6E also does this, but it can get tripped up by interference, even if it’s just a little bit of interference. Wi-Fi 7, on the other hand, doesn’t let the interference slow it down. It just sends the data around the interference and combines it on the other side.
The catch is that this new way of sending data in Wi-Fi 7 doesn’t work with older devices. So, if your router has Wi-Fi 7 and it talks to an older device with, let’s say, Wi-Fi 4, it’ll talk to it the old way, which makes all the other devices wait. To really benefit from Wi-Fi 7, you’ll need to upgrade all your gadgets to the new standard, unless they switch to something called the Matter-over-Thread system, but that’s a big “if.”
What Other Advantages Can Wi-Fi 7 Offer?
Mesh systems are a great way to make sure your Wi-Fi works well in every part of your home. But here’s the thing, they usually rely on just one wireless connection to link all the devices together. This can be a problem when things get crowded, like too many devices using the Wi-Fi at once. When that happens, the router has to change to a different Wi-Fi channel, and that can slow things down while it rebuilds the connection.
With Wi-Fi 7 and something called Multi-Link Operation (MLO), it can switch between Wi-Fi channels without causing any noticeable interruptions. So, your Wi-Fi stays fast and doesn’t hiccup even when the network gets busy.
Wi-Fi 7 also helps reduce lag or delay on your network, thanks to MLO and another trick called OFDMA. Because it can talk to different Wi-Fi channels at the same time and uses smart ways to send data, your devices don’t have to wait as much when they want to do something on the internet.
When Can I Expect to Have Wi-Fi 7 on My Devices?
As mentioned earlier, Wi-Fi 7 routers are currently available for purchase. However, there’s no need to rush out and buy one just yet, as only a limited number of devices can currently support this standard, which has not even been officially finalized.
Nevertheless, the necessary chips are already in circulation. Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7800 mobile wireless chipset made its debut in 2022 and can be found in some phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. However, it’s worth noting that Samsung would need to activate Wi-Fi 7 support for those phones to make use of it.
You can also discover Wi-Fi 7 compatibility in the 16-inch Acer Swift Edge laptop, and Intel’s BE200 Wi-Fi 7 network card is expected to be released by the end of 2023. Over the course of the following year, various other major manufacturers are likely to introduce computers that support this new standard.
These are the initial stages of Wi-Fi 7, and most of its advantages won’t be fully realized until manufacturers make it their standard, which may take some time. Currently, many products still operate on Wi-Fi 5. Unless you’re particularly enthusiastic about adopting the latest technology, there aren’t any compelling reasons to immediately switch to the updated specification with a new router.
This is particularly true because, as of my writing, the Wi-Fi 7 standard has not yet been officially adopted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Thus, routers released before its formal adoption might lack crucial features or optimizations. While some features, such as the doubled channel width, offer clear and measurable benefits, others like Multi-Link Operation (MLO) are promising but relatively untested in independent evaluations.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the early Wi-Fi 7 routers are expected to be among the most expensive ever released. For instance, the Eero Max 7 mesh system is projected to cost nearly $1,700 for a three-pack when it becomes available.
So, is It Advisable to Purchase a Wi-fi 7 Router Now or Later?
If your expectation is that Wi-Fi 7 will completely resolve your network issues, it’s recommended to exercise patience. Given the incomplete nature of the specification and the limited number of devices supporting it, the benefits won’t become apparent for several months, if not years.
It’s also wise to delay your purchase until the specification is finalized and the Wi-Fi Alliance initiates certification for Wi-Fi 7 routers. This ensures full compliance with the established standard. Up until that point, these routers are likely to be relatively costly, and the scarcity of wireless devices supporting their advanced features may not justify the expense.
To put it simply, Wi-Fi 7 is the next big thing in wireless tech, promising super-fast internet. You don’t need to rush out and buy it right away, though. It’ll take some time before most devices support it, and the standard isn’t fully official yet. When you do decide to upgrade, it should make your internet faster and more stable, and it’ll still work with your old gadgets.
However, wait until the official certification to buy a Wi-Fi 7 router, as the early ones might be really expensive. And remember, all these fancy features in Wi-Fi 7 need the right devices to work, and those are still pretty rare. So, it’s a matter of timing and how much you want to be on the cutting edge of technology.