Wireless communication is so common nowadays that we don’t think about it anymore. Whether it is outside on our mobile phones, using it at home on our laptops and tablets, or using portable devices on Bluetooth, wireless communication is just always there. We expect it to be available and fast. To make that possible, development never stops. The newest development now? Wi-Fi 7.
What is Wi-Fi 7?
Wi-Fi 7 is like you would expect, the successor of the previous Wi-Fi standard, Wi-Fi 6 (and Wi-Fi 6E). Wi-Fi 7 will be known as the 802.11be standard. It will use the 2.5, 5, and 6 GHz frequency bands, which is the same for the 6 and 6E versions. Nothing new there.
What is new in the Wi-Fi 7 standard is the use of a 320 MHz channel in the 6 GHZ band. So, more bandwidth for data, which will benefit high-demand data streams. At the same time, Wi-Fi 7 will be downwards compatible, so it can be used with all devices that only support older Wi-Fi standards.
The biggest improvement I believe is the changes in the Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) support. The number of channels is increased from 8 to 16. This together with the addition of Multi-Link Operation (MLO) improves the data transfer and reduces the latency. MLO allows the switching (or even parallel) use of the band used for data transfer rather than a single one.
What are the benefits?
With the wider frequency channels on the supported bands, together with the multi-link options, the main advantages of Wi-Fi 7 over the previous Wi-Fi versions are improved speed and reduced latency.
In theory Wi-Fi 7 will enable transfer speeds up to 46 Gbps. Compared to the 9.6 Gbps of the Wi-Fi 6E standard, that is a significant increase. Intel expects a typical laptop to have a data transfer rate of up to 5.8 Gbps). Although the support of a 320 MHz channel contributes to this, the Multi-Link Operation (MLO) is the main reason for these improvements.
A secondary benefit of the new Wi-Fi 7 standard is the new feature called Restricted Wake Time, which will help your devices save battery. Devices will be in power save mode as much as possible since the awake time allows access points and routers to manage the network activity (Also see Target Wake Time – TWT).
The last new benefit of Wi-Fi 7 is that it will support more simultaneous connections. So I you plan to connect all devices in your home (or have a lot of parties with guests that use your Wi-Fi connection), the new standard will help ensure speed and latency are optimal.
When will Wi-Fi 7 be available?
Routers that will support Wi-Fi 7 will become available are expected later in 2023, with all major manufacturers planning releases.
Qualcomm will have Wi-Fi 7 chipset available that enables speeds up to 33 Gbps. Linksys is planning to use this chipset in their new routers, even though they have not announced any releases. TP-Link (Archer BE900), Netgear (Nighthawk RS-700), Asus (ROG Rapture GT-BE98), and MSI (RadiX BE22000 Turbo) did already announce new products with Wi-Fi 7 support.
Do I need Wi-Fi 7?
Currently? Maybe not. In the future, more likely, yes. As is clear from the above, the benefits are speed, multi-device support, reduced latency, and more bandwidth. If you are an avid gamer, low latency is important. Other things that might be considered for upgrading are video streaming (with 8K becoming more common), or the internet of things (IoT) where we connect all our devices to the Internet (your fridge ordering your groceries for example).
As always with device upgrades, the need to upgrade will also depend on the current situation. If you plan to upgrade or replace an older router, waiting for the new Wi-Fi 7-enabled routers would be a good idea. If you don’t think you will need the advantages the Wi-Fi 7 standard offers, your ISP speed is low anyway, or the cost of a router is a consideration, getting a Wi-Fi 7-enabled router would not be recommended.
Do keep in mind that all your other wireless devices will also need support for Wi-Fi 7. The latest mobile phones and laptops might have it, but a lot of other wireless devices will currently not include support.