In today’s fast-paced digital world, integrators know that the lynchpin of many a successful smart home experience lies within a solid internet connection. Whether it’s for gaming, streaming or working from home, clients want the fastest, most responsive connections, and with the approach of Wi-Fi 7 slated for the end of Q1 2024, many may already be asking about the next evolution in wireless networking standards.
Wi-Fi 7 is many things, and like Wi-Fi 6 before it, it promises to completely change the way we connect to the internet wirelessly. However, the question that may remain for a lot of people is: what does it do? And perhaps, if you already know of Wi-Fi 7: are there any products on the market today that offer it?
In this article, we’ll delve into all that Wi-Fi 7 promises as a wireless network, how it compares to the current available networks, and how you can describe it to clients as an evolution of their current networks.
What is Wi-Fi 7
Wi-Fi 7, also known as 802.11be, is the latest iteration of the Wi-Fi standard and builds upon the foundation of its predecessors. It promises to deliver lightning-fast speeds, reduced latency, and enhanced reliability, making it a significant leap forward in wireless connectivity technology.
It keeps the OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) and BSS Coloring introduced in Wi-Fi 6 to ensure that devices are able to communicate with one another more freely. It also keeps the 6G transmission speeds introduced in Wi-Fi 6E which allow it to deliver Wi-Fi WLAN speeds for networks.
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What Are the Benefits of Wi-Fi 7
What this translates to is that Wi-Fi 7 can (theoretically) deliver peak data rates of up to 46 Gbps (according to TP-Link) in addition to being able to deliver significantly reduced latency. This helps ensure near real-time communication in specific applications. Additionally, Wi-Fi 7 has been designed to run far more efficiently and reliably, which translates to a more robust network that ultimately requires less power to run.
The applications that will benefit the most from this will be AR and VR implementations, pristine 4K to 8K video streaming, high performance online gaming, and rapid downloads. Wi-Fi 7 will also help break up a lot of the congestion on networks where there may be some overlap with other adjacent networks, or there is simply a high density of devices using the network.
Differences Between Wi-Fi 7 and Wi-Fi 6E
Currently, homeowners have the option of either Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E for their wireless network with the biggest difference between 6 and 6E being 6E opening up access to the 6GHz frequency band, which provides a higher bandwidth of communication for devices on the network. Wi-Fi 7 has access to the same bands as Wi-Fi 6E (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz) but differentiates itself through channels.
A current problem with Wi-FI 6E, despite having the same OFDMA technology as Wi-Fi 7 is that the channels can still become fairly clogged in moderate traffic. Wi-Fi 7 skirts that problem by being able to support more channels, which means more data is able to be transmitted, a lot like how more lanes on a highway can accommodate more traffic.
Wi-Fi 7 also comes with a higher Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) over Wi-Fi 6E. As a method to transmit and receive data in radio frequency waves, a higher QAM generally means more information can be transmitted over the network. Of course, there’s a caveat to that heightened frequency: a higher QAM requires a stronger signal. It also results in a drop in effective range.
For this reason, while the transition from Wi-Fi 5 (256-QAM) to Wi-Fi 6 (1024-QAM) offered a 25% increase in peak data transmission performance, the jump from Wi-Fi 6 to Wi-Fi 7 (which now offers 4K-QAM) only delivers a 20% increase in peak performance.
Wi-Fi 7’s main defining feature, however, is Multi-Link Operation (MLO). Prior to Wi-Fi 7, every Wi-Fi device established a connection between two devices on a single band. This even pertains to something like Wi-Fi 6E, which theoretically has 3 available bands of communication, but, depending upon the devices, can still become congested since all devices need to stick to a single path.
MLO, in contrast, can combine communications across multiple paths simultaneously, which drastically opens the channels and allows for the transmission of more data across the network. In short, MLO is all about working smarter, not harder.
MLO is also great news for setting up mesh networks in the home, as according to ASUS’s website, Wi-Fi 7 access points will be able to deftly juggle connections between multiple bands, and that can help prevent a loss of connection on more congested networks.
Is It Worth Upgrading Today?
Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but you might want to wait a little while. Now is less time to be offering upgrades and more about planting the seeds of said upgrades in the future. Though there are a select batch of devices on the market that purportedly offer Wi-Fi 7 today, the standard itself will not be live until the end of Q1 2024, according the Wi-Fi Alliance.
That means that most Wi-Fi 7 routers aren’t officially certified yet. Even once the Wi-Fi 7 has gone live, it will still take a little bit of time before the first fully-certified Wi-Fi 7 products hit the markets.
What that also means is that most wireless devices available on the market today aren’t yet equipped to be able to handle some of the more cutting-edge features of the products. One of the biggest calling cards of the Wi-Fi 7 standard, MLO has yet to be independently tested.
However, those who like to be on the cutting edge can still get plenty of the benefits from a Wi-Fi 7 router or access point now. Features like higher bandwidth and higher QAM are baked into the products and can be immediately taken advantage of by Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E products. The routers themselves can also take advantage of MLO, meaning users benefit from the stronger mesh networking.
However, as mentioned before, Wi-Fi 7 routers do exist today. NETGEAR’s Orbi 970 series comes equipped with NETGEAR’s own proprietary technology aimed at enhancing Wi-Fi 7 benefits, as per a statement from the company, and runs around $2299.99 MSRP for a three-pack. The eero Max 7 also touts Wi-Fi 7 capabilities at a slightly more affordable $1700 MSRP for a three-pack.
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