The latest Wi-Fi standard to boost speeds and tackle network traffic jams, Wi-Fi 7 is coming to a wireless network near you.
Officially known as 802.11be, Wi-Fi 7 has finally been certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. This new wireless standard has been in the works for a long time, building on Wi-Fi 6E, meaning that some Wi-Fi 7-capable gear is already on the shelves.
We’re also seeing the first Wi-Fi 7 devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops, but thankfully the new standard might also offer a boost to older wireless devices around your home.
What are the benefits of Wi-Fi 7?
Wi-Fi 7 takes advantage of more radio frequencies, wider channels and a range of other advancements to improve the performance of your Wi-Fi network.
It follows in the footsteps of Wi-Fi 6E in supporting the 6GHz band alongside the 2.4 and 5GHz bands used by Wi-Fi 6. The 6GHz band can transmit data faster, but over shorter distances.
Using three bands at once means Wi-Fi 7 can significantly increase a wireless router’s “throughput”, which is the theoretical maximum amount of data that can travel across the network at once. It’s also coming with enhanced dedicated backhaul, allowing it to direct data more efficiently, especially across mesh Wi-Fi networks.
As a result, Wi-Fi 7 can deliver peak rates of more than 40 Gbps, a four-times increase over Wi-Fi 6E. Of course, that’s the “theoretical maximum” and, in real-world conditions, you’ll likely achieve about half of that.
Wi-Fi 7 is coming: Life in the fast lane
Even 20 Gbps is blisteringly fast but, of course, not all of that data is simultaneously going to the one device. That’s the total capacity of the wireless network, which can be thought of as a multi-lane freeway running around your home.
Wi-Fi 7 adds more lanes to the freeway, and makes some lanes wider/faster. It also increases and improves the express lanes for newer Wi-Fi gear, so your older Wi-Fi devices don’t slow things down. All of this helps reduce traffic jams and increase real-world performance.
For starters, Wi-Fi 7 offers wider 320Hz channels on 6GHz, double that of Wi-Fi 6E. This allows it to pump more data along each lane to boost speeds, a bit like adding 200 kph lanes to the freeway for devices that can handle those speeds.
At the same time, Wi-Fi 7 increases Quadrature Amplitude Modulation from 1024 QAM to 4K QAM, meaning it can squeeze even more data into radio signals.
It also doubles the multi-user, multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO) maximum spatial streams from 8 to 16. These are the express lanes that ensure your newest devices get priority service.
Originally, Wi-Fi networks insisted that every wireless device in your home wait its turn to be served, like waiting at a single toll gate on the freeway. If the driver of an old clanker at the front of the queue is hunting around for loose change, everyone else is stuck in line.
MU-MIMO network groups your faster devices together and talks to them simultaneously. It basically opens extra toll gate lanes for devices with an eTag, so they can rush through. This way, every device spends less time waiting in the queue, so even your older Wi-Fi gear sees a performance boost.
Even better, is the addition of Multi-Link Operation (MLO), which lets Wi-Fi 7 routers talk to compatible devices using multiple bands and channels simultaneously.
So basically, compatible devices can drive in several lanes at once for an even greater performance boost. This also increases reliability in the event of interference in one lane, which is particularly useful for backhaul.
A range of other technologies like Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) and Target Wake Time (TWT) also get a tweak to improve performance.
Combined, all of these improvements increase data speeds, reduce latency, improve load balancing between bands, reduce interference and increase network reliability.
Is it backwards compatible?
Yes, as with previous standards, you can still use Wi-Fi 6E and earlier wireless devices on Wi-Fi 7.
Older devices will see some performance improvements thanks to better traffic management, but the biggest improvements will reserved for the new generation of Wi-Fi 7-compatible devices. Recent devices like the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and Google Pixel 8 Pro are among those equipped with the latest standard.
This year you’ll see Wi-Fi 7 certification come to more laptops, handheld gadgets, smart home gear and other devices, ensuring that they’re good to go when your home is ready to make the leap to the next-generation technology.