As we kick off 2023, we’ve seen quite a few Wi-Fi 7 wireless routers announced which will be available later this year. We know what you’re probably thinking, “But wait, I just bought a new Wi-Fi 6/Wi-Fi 6E router, and now it’s already outdated?”
For better or worse, technology moves at a rapid clip, and that is even true in the networking world. So, what exactly is Wi-Fi 7 and what makes it better than the Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E standard we see in the best gaming routers today? We’ve got all the details to keep you abreast of what to expect from the next-generation wireless standard.
Wi-Fi 7 Basics
Let’s start with the basics. The consumer-facing name for the new generation wireless standard is Wi-Fi 7, but its official name is 802.11be. Wi-Fi 7 builds off the foundation provided by Wi-Fi 6E, which means that 2.4GHz, 5Ghz and 6GHz wireless bands are supported.
Wi-Fi 7 is designed to significantly increase transfer speeds, reduce latency and boost overall network capacity for clients. Wi-Fi 7 should accommodate the inevitable arrival of 8K video streaming and the ongoing promise of immersive, low-latency extended reality (XR) applications for industrial and gaming purposes.
Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6E vs Wi-Fi 7
|Header Cell - Column 0||Wi-Fi-6||Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 7|
|Wireless Bands||2.4GHz, 5GHz||2.4GHz, 5GHz, 6GHz||2.4GHz, 5GHz, 6GHz|
|Max Channel Bandwidth||160HZ||160HZ||320HZ|
|Maximum Spatial Streams||8||8||16|
|Maximum Bandwidth per Stream||1200 Mbps||1200 Mbps||2400 Mbps|
|Theoretical Maximum Data Rate||9.6 Gbps||9.6 Gbps||46 Gbps|
|Advanced Modulation||1024 QAM||1024 QAM||4K QAM|
As you might expect with a new wireless standard, Wi-Fi 7 is backward compatible with all previous iterations like Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5. That means that you won’t have to throw out all your existing wireless gear if you purchase a new Wi-Fi 7 router. However, if you want to enjoy all the performance perks of Wi-Fi 7, you will need to connect to the routers with a Wi-Fi 7-based client.
Multi-Link Operation and QAM
Wi-Fi 5 saw the introduction of Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO), which is designed to better support multiple clients simultaneously accessing a wireless access point. While Wi-Fi 5 supports MU-MIMO downlinks, Wi-Fi 6/6E brought MU-MIMO uplink support.
Wi-Fi 7 doubles the MU-MIMO streams from eight to 16 and adds Multi-Link Operation (MLO) to the mix. With current wireless standards, clients choose one band to transmit data. If conditions change that will make operating on a different band more efficient, the client will automatically switch.
For example, a Wi-Fi 6E router would choose a single channel on a single band (2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz) when connecting to a Wi-Fi 6E client. However, MLO allows Wi-Fi 7 routers to connect to a Wi-Fi 7 client via multiple wireless bands and channels simultaneously as a single aggregated connection.
Instead of connecting to a single 2.4GHz, 5GHz or 6GHz channel, as with Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 would allow a client to use all three bands simultaneously. This lowers latency, significantly increases the data rate, improves load balancing across bands, and offers increased network reliability by duplicating packets across multiple links.
QAM, or Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, is a method by which data packets are translated to analog signals transmitted wirelessly. Wi-Fi 6E supports 1024 QAM, while Wi-Fi 7 increases that to 4K QAM. The increase from 1024 QAM to 4K QAM results in a 20 percent throughput increase. The result is higher efficiency, capacity and higher data transmission rates compared to Wi-Fi 6/6E.
Wider Channels and Preamble Puncturing
Wi-Fi 6E offered a maximum of 160MHz of bandwidth. Wi-Fi 7 doubles the maximum available bandwidth to 320Hz (three channels) on the 6GHz band. The wider 320Hz channels provided by Wi-Fi 7 allow more data to be transmitted if the access point and client are compliant.
In addition, Wi-Fi 7 supports preamble puncturing, which enables a client to use spectrum that another user otherwise occupied. In the example above provided by Intel, 40MHz of wireless spectrum is in use (out of a 320MHz total channel bandwidth). Puncturing allows the unused 280MHz of bandwidth to be allocated for a client.
When Will Wi-Fi 7 Devices be Available to Purchase?
We haven’t seen any Wi-Fi 7 routers or client adapters shipping yet, but several products have already been announced and a couple are even up for pre-order. A company called H3C announced (and supposedly released) its Magic BE18000 last summer, but it’s not for sale in North America and we haven’t seen it for sale anywhere else either.
In November, TP-Link announced half a dozen Wi-Fi 7 routers with two of them already up on Amazon and due to ship in a couple of months..
For serious performance junkies, the quad-band TP-Link Archer BE24000 offers a combined 24.4 Gbps bandwidth. This router is all decked out with an LCD touchscreen for accessing system vitals, local time/temperature and more. The Archer BE24000 features 12 internal antennae, dual 10 GbE ports and four 2.5 GbE ports.
For those looking to go the mesh router route, TP-Link will offer the Deco BE33000. This mesh routing system comes with one router and one satellite that can cover up to 7,800 square feet (which is quite remarkable for a two-node system). This is also a quad-band solution but includes dual 10 GbE ports and just two 2.5 GbE ports. The TP-Link Deco BE33000 (opens in new tab) and Deco BE33000 (opens in new tab) will launch on March 15th, priced at $699 and $1,199, respectively.
At CES 2023, we saw the announcement of Asus’ ROG Rapture GT-BE98 and RT-BE96U. The arachnid-esque ROG Rapture GT-BE98 features a single 2.4GHz band, two 5GHz bands and one 6GHz band. It offers up to 25,000 Mbps of available network bandwidth, three 10 Gbps LAN ports and four 1 Gbps LAN ports. The RT-BE96U is similar but offers a single 5GHz band and two 10 Gbps LAN ports.
MSI also announced the RadiX BE22200 Turbo, which is a distinctive Wi-Fi 7 router with four antennae “blades” that sprout from its base. While that might not sound all that special at first glance, the blades can physically move by detecting the location of a connecting client to “change the antenna pattern for best performance.”
As its name hints, the RadiX BE22000 Turbo supports up to 22,000 Mbps of bandwidth over three bands (one each of 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz). The router also offers two 10 GbE ports and four 2.5 GbE ports.
All these products are expected to launch later in 2023.