You’ve barely gotten your hands on a Wifi 6 router and there’s already a Wifi 7? Tom explains the expected timeline and features of this new WiFi specification.
Featuring Tom Merritt.
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I haven’t even upgraded everything to WiFi 6 and now we’re talking WiFi 7 already?
Is this just companies trying to take advantage of my FoMo to trick me into spending money on something I don’t need.
WiFi 6 wasn’t even that much faster than WiFi 5? What’s WiFi 7 going to do for me?
Confused? Don’t be,
Let’s help you Know a Little more about WiFi 7.
First of all, a brief bit about the names. You old school types may remember 802.11b and 802.11 n etc. Well, with 802.11ax, they named the finished product WiFi 6 in order to make it easier for average consumers to remember and compare. To that end, they retroactively renamed 802.11ac as WiFi5.
The 802.11 designations still exist, but only during development,
WiFi7 is still officially 802.11be EHT (for Extremely High Throughput). It’s being drafted and the expectation is it will become a finalized standard in March 2024.
You won’t be surprised that the aim is to reduce latency, increase capacity, boost stability and efficiency and of course get 4 times faster than WiFi 6 and 6E, somewhere around 30 Gbps.
A bit about that speed.
As any of you who have a WiFi router know, you don’t get max theoretical speed from a router, at base, because you probably don’t have an internet connection to match. Most people have less than a 1Gbps internet connection. And sadly 30Gbps WiFi 7 is not going to magically make your ISP’s service faster. But even if you were trying to just transfer things around on your internal network, you probably wouldn’t hit 30 gbps just because of conditions like lag and traffic on your own network.
But the nice thing about having a higher theoretical maximum like 30 gigabits per second is you’ve got more bandwidth to slice up between the different devices connected to your network. So 30 gigabits per second, can be split up among more devices than 9.6 Gbps can. So there is an endemic advantage that every WiFi update has had that oh, we can handle a little more allotment per device, and we are all putting more devices on our networks.
WiFi 6 did more to help capacity and latency than speed. But WiFi 7 not only adds a lot more speed but also a lot more things to combat latency and lag. So the expectation is that unlike WiFi 6, your devices might actually feel a lot faster on WiFi 7.
So let’s talk about some of the ways WiFi 7 will reduce latency, lag and congestion to help you actually experience that increased speed.
Like WiFi 6, WiFi 7 will offer OFDMA, MU-MIMO and Target Wake Time. Get our WiFi 6 episode for explanations of how those work.
Briefly though, MU-MIMO lets a router handle eight devices at once in WiFi 6. WiFi 7’s MU-MIMO will be able to handle 16 devices at once.
And as a reminder, OFDMA is the one that lets you send to multiple devices in one transmission. Like the postal carrier that can carry mail to more than one house. In Wifi 7, OFDMA gets Multiple Resource Units or MRUs, which further reduce latency and interference.
And Target Wake Time is the feature that lets a device plan when to talk to the router so it doesn’t have to waste power keeping the antenna on. Great for sensors. In WiFi 7, Restricted Target Wake Time lets the router reserve bandwidth for these kinds of transmissions.
WiFi 7 MAY also include something called “puncturing”. Basically it stops interference from blocking as much of a channel, by puncturing the channel to accommodate the interference so the rest of the channel remains usable.
Like WiFi 6E, which added a third band, WiFi 7 will operate in three bands, 2.4-GHz, 5-GHz and 6-GHz. But WiFi7 will have even wider channels in the 6GHz band. WiFi6E supports 160 MHz-wide channels. WiFi 7 increases that 320 MHz. Basically that means twice the bandwidth. It’s like adding lanes to the highway. So it can carry more data.
That 6-gigahertz band is a crowded place though. NASA and the US Department of Defense use it to communicate with satellites. A lot of weather systems use it too. Luckily all these legacy uses stay in one place and act fairly predictably. That means WiFi 7 can use something called Automated Frequency Coordination– or AFC– to avoid conflicts. WiFi 7 will check an online database of pre-existing uses of the 6-GHz band and then prevent transmissions that might interfere with radio telescopes or weather radar that use it too.
That allows WiFi 7 to broadcast in that band at a higher power. Previous uses of the 6GHz band had to keep it down so it didn’t disturb the neighbors. WiFi 7 knows which direction it can rock out and not bother anyone.
WiFi 6E had AFC as well, but more classes of devices will be able to get AFC- certified under WiFi 7. In other words you won’t run into as many phones or tablets and such that wouldn’t be able to get the advantage of 6GHz.
When the bands are free, WiFi 7 can broadcast at up to 63 times as much power as it would otherwise. That means more range and reliability and of course better throughput.
WiFi7 will also increase capacity and reduce latency thanks to increased Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, which I’m assured is pronounced Kwam- even though there is absolutely no U in Q-A-M. I suspect I am being pranked. Please advise.
QAM combines amplitude modulation, like that used in AM radio and phase modulation. In fact AM stereo uses a type of QAM. The two signals combine for transmission and then separate at the destination which lets you pack in more info into one transmission.
WiFi7 has 4096-QAM or colloquially, 4K-QAM, as a standard. Say it with me. 4K-QAM. However as you increase QAM you need more power to effect the same range. So even though 4,096 is a much bigger number than 1,024, 4K-QAM gets you about a 20% peak performance increase over 1024-QAM. Intel expects that to end up being 4.8 times the data rate as WiFi 6.
WiFi 7 will also get a boost from something called Multi-Link Operation or MLO. Up until now two devices could only connect on a single band. If your router connected to the laptop, it was on one channel, say on the 2.4GHz band. That was it. MLO can combine the 5 and 6GHz frequencies so your WiFi7 router could connect to your laptop on both the 5 and 6GHz bands. That means more data can pass back and forth but it also means the router has more options, and therefore more flexibility to avoid congestion and interference as well. The trick works because the 5 and 6 GHz bands are so close and have similar speeds. You can’t use the 2.4 GHz band with the other two bands because it’s slower.
Think of it this way. You want to move a huge boat shaped like a duck. It doesn’t fit on one truck. So you put one end of the boat on one truck and the other end on another truck. Both trucks can go the same speed, so you just cruise down the road carrying your duck-shaped boat.
But if you only had one truck and a wooden-cart drawn by a horse. You could still fit the duck-shaped boat across both vehicles, but the horse would not keep up with the truck so it wouldn’t work. Unless you had 100 duck-sized horses maybe.. but I digress.
In any case, MLO lets you take advantage of more bands meaning you can move more data faster and reduce latency.
Side note on this. I’m saying 5 and 6GHz bands because it’s the most common implementation and the one used in the US. However some regions have different regulations on the bands. For instance in China MLO will work on two different channels in the 5GHz band.
WiFi 7 will be backwards compatible. But to take advantage of its improvements you will need new devices. That means a WiFi 7 router and of course devices that support WiFi 7.
But of course like most 802.11 standards, some companies will try to be the first to support it even before it’s out of the draft phase. Qualcomm has announced WiFi 7 chipset and platforms that promises 33Gbps of quad-band connectivity over 16 streams. Broadcom and Mediatek announced WiFi 7 SoCs as well. Those are the chips, and once those get pumped out, companies can start making devices that use them. At first it will probably be a few models of routers and a scattering of devices. I wouldn’t expect to see WiFi 7 in mainstream phones and tablets or the majority of routers, for a few years.
As with any new standard, I’d wait for those flagship devices to start supporting it before you jump on board, unless you have a specific use case or you just like to try stuff out.
But. Once we get WiFi 7. What will it mean?
As I said it’s expected to be almost 4 times faster than WiFi 6 and 6E. So we’re talking around 30 Gbps or so.
Similar to 5G one of the promised benefits of WiFi 7 is better support for AR and VR which need high throughput and low latency. But one of the most needed but least talked about improvements is capacity. With so many more devices in a home using WiFi, the improvements in reducing congestion and interference will be noticeable, especially in the enterprise and large venues like stadiums.
Mediatek even thinks the speed and latency improvements, and the tactics to combat interference, mean WiFi 7 will be a credible replacement for ethernet. We’re not talking “oh my Roku works fine now without ethernet” we mean “Enterprise companies don’t need to pull cable”. We’ll see but the specs are there to make that a plausible claim.
So WiFi 7, coming in a couple years. Will be faster and lower latency. In other words I hope you know a little more about WiFi 7.