While many people have only recently upgraded to Wi-Fi 6 and some may consider upgrading to Wi-Fi 6E, their successor is on the horizon. Wi-Fi 7 is the next big thing, and like its predecessors, the new standard promises faster connections, lower latency, and the ability to gracefully manage more connections than ever before.
If you want to improve your Wi-Fi today, Wi-Fi 7 is not the answer because there won’t be enough support anytime soon. But early adopters will be thrilled with the news that the first batch of Wi-Fi 7 routers should arrive in early 2023. In fact, it will be a long time before most of us consider transitioning. If you need to upgrade quickly, consider buying a router first before checking out our selection of the best Wi-Fi routers and the best Wi-Fi mesh systems.
Updated November 2022: We have adjusted the schedule as Wi-Fi 7 approaches and added news about the TP-Link Wi-Fi 7 line of routers.
What is WiFi 7?
The seventh generation of Wi-Fi promises significant improvements over Wi-Fi 6 and 6E and can deliver up to four times the speed. It also includes smart enhancements to reduce latency, increase capacity, and improve stability and efficiency.
Wi-Fi 7 is IEEE 802.11be in the old naming convention, where Wi-Fi 6 is IEEE 802.11ax and Wi-Fi 5 is IEEE 802.11ac. Like previous standards, Wi-Fi 7 will be backward compatible. But to take advantage of the new features and improved performance it promises, you need to upgrade your devices. This means buying new routers and access points, not to mention new smartphones, laptops, TVs and so on.
What benefits will Wi-Fi 7 bring?
Wi-Fi 7 will be faster, support more connections, and be more responsive to deliver reliable, low-latency performance.
These benefits will help deliver high-quality video and better cloud gaming, as well as serve AR and VR applications that require high bandwidth and low latency. Wi-Fi 7 also eliminates congestion and interference, bringing measurable benefits in densely packed areas or neighboring networks that overlap. The latter is most important for enterprises and large venues.
How is Wi-Fi 7 different from Wi-Fi 6E?
Understandably, you might be wondering what makes Wi-Fi 7 different from Wi-Fi 6E, which generally promises the same benefits over previous standards by opening up the 6GHz frequency band. Especially since Wi-Fi 7 will use the same three bands of 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz. Here are some notable updates.
Each band is divided into channels. The 2.4 GHz band consists of 11 channels of 20 megahertz (MHz) each. The 5 GHz band has 45 channels, but instead of being limited to 20 MHz, they can be combined to create 40 or 80 MHz channels. The 6GHz band supports 60 channels, and with Wi-Fi 6E they can go up to 160MHz. Wi-Fi 7 supports channels up to 320 MHz wide. The wider the channel, the more data it can transmit.
A simple analogy is to imagine how much traffic a one-lane road can handle compared to a three-lane or six-lane highway.
Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) is a method of transmitting and receiving data in radio frequency waves. The higher it is, the more information you can pack. Wi-Fi 7 supports 4K-QAM, Wi-Fi 6 supports 1024-QAM, and Wi-Fi 5 supports 256-QAM.
The potential benefits are compounded by signal strength, background noise, and interference. Therefore, as QAM increases, the range decreases and you need a stronger signal. Thus, moving to 1024-QAM on Wi-Fi 6 provided about a 25 percent increase in data transfer rates compared to Wi-Fi 5. Moving to 4K-QAM on Wi-Fi 7 means a 20 percent increase in peak performance.
Perhaps the most exciting development in Wi-Fi 7 is multi-channel operation (MLO). Each previous Wi-Fi standard establishes a connection between two devices in the same range. Even a tri-band Wi-Fi 6E router connects two devices on the same band on a fixed channel (the router decides whether to connect on the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz band).
MLO can combine multiple frequencies in different bands into one connection. A Wi-Fi 7 router can connect to a Wi-Fi 7 device at the same time on two or more channels in different bands. MLO potentially allows for wider channels capable of carrying more data – going back to our highway analogy, you can send traffic to highways and superhighways at the same time.
Speed isn’t always a priority, but MLO also allows you to work more efficiently. A Wi-Fi 7 router can take into account congestion and other interference and transmit on the best channel to bypass it, switching to maintain a stable connection and low latency. MLO can also help mitigate the relatively short range of the 6GHz band.