What is Wi-Fi 7, and how does it compare vs Wi-Fi 6E / 6

The world of wireless technology is constantly evolving, and the latest development in this sphere is Wi-Fi 7. This new standard is set to revolutionize the way we connect to the internet, offering unprecedented speed, efficiency, and reliability. But what exactly is Wi-Fi 7, and how does it differ from its predecessors? Let’s delve into the details.

Understanding Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi 7, also known as 802.11be Extremely High Throughput (EHT), is the latest iteration in the series of Wi-Fi standards. It’s the successor to Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, promising to deliver even faster speeds and more efficient data transmission. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the global network of companies that brings you Wi-Fi, is currently working on finalizing the specifications for this new standard.

The Evolution of Wi-Fi Standards

The journey of Wi-Fi standards has been a fascinating one. From the early days of 802.11b, which offered a modest 11 Mbps, we’ve come a long way. Each new standard has brought significant improvements in speed, range, and efficiency. Wi-Fi 7 is no exception, promising to deliver speeds of up to 30 Gbps, which is a significant leap from the 9.6 Gbps offered by Wi-Fi 6.

Key Features of Wi-Fi 7

Wi-Fi 7 comes with a host of exciting features that set it apart from its predecessors. One of the most notable is the use of 320 MHz channels, which allows for faster data transmission. It also introduces Multi-Link Operation (MLO), which enables a device to connect to multiple access points simultaneously, enhancing both speed and reliability.

Another key feature is the Enhanced Link Adaptation (ELA), which allows devices to adapt to changes in the wireless environment. This means that your connection will remain stable even in challenging conditions.

320 MHz Channels

The initial highlight of Wi-Fi 7 is its considerably enhanced channel width, expanding up to 320MHz, which is twice as wide as the previous Wi-Fi 6/6E.

This augmented channel width is predominantly available on the 6GHz band, providing up to three 320MHz channels. Nevertheless, Wi-Fi 7 possesses the capacity to merge sections of the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to establish this extended bandwidth, which will be elaborated on further in the Multi-Link Operation section.

While comprehensive details about Wi-Fi channels can be found elsewhere, this widened channel generally implies that Wi-Fi 7 has the potential to double the fundamental speed, increasing from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz).

So theoretically, solely considering the width, a 4×4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 could provide up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth, or rounded up to 10Gbps. However, there are additional aspects to Wi-Fi 7’s bandwidth to explore.

Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points, depending on their specific configuration, will be offered in various speed grades. These include options that present bandwidths either higher or lower than 10Gbps on the 6GHz band.

Additionally, Wi-Fi 7 supports twice the number of partial streams, increasing to 16. As a result, theoretically, a 16-stream (16×16) Wi-Fi 7 operating on a 6GHz band could deliver an excess of 40Gbps of bandwidth, especially when taking into account the newly supported QAM detailed further down.

Multi-Link Operation (MLO)

Multi-Link Operation (MLO) stands as the most groundbreaking and potentially transformative feature of Wi-Fi 7, which deviates from the standard Wi-Fi paradigm. In all preceding versions up to Wi-Fi 6E, a Wi-Fi connection between two devices would be restricted to a single band, using a designated channel at a time.

Essentially, MLO is an amalgamation of Wi-Fi bands, similar to Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking. This enables the combination of two Wi-Fi bands, primarily 5GHz and 6GHz, into a solitary Wi-Fi network (SSID) and connection. The fused link provides superior bandwidth and reliability.

MLO’s full potential is realized when paired with Wi-Fi 7 clients, potentially revolutionizing wireless mesh network operations. It offers the prospect of maintaining a steady connection without signal drops or temporary disconnections, facilitating a truly seamless handoff (or roaming).

Moreover, within each band, a connection can astutely select the optimal channel or channel width in real-time, similar to the channel-hopping feature of Bluetooth, albeit less frequently.

This newfound capability significantly enhances the efficiency of Wi-Fi 7’s range, enabling all its bands to provide faster speed over more extended distances than their predecessors.

Looking at the Wi-Fi settings of the One Plus 11 5G, it’s evident that the new “Dual Wi-Fi acceleration” feature is included. Additionally, a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster, as illustrated by the TP-Link Deco BE85, will have a separate MLO network aside from the traditional network for backward compatibility. MLO thus provides a superior alternative to the existing “Smart Connect,” where all the broadcaster’s bands share the same SSID (network name) and password, which doesn’t always function as efficiently as anticipated.

Despite its advantages, MLO isn’t without its limitations:

  • MLO is only compatible with Wi-Fi 7 clients. Older clients, such as Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, will still utilize a single band at a time when connecting to an MLO SSID.
  • MLO necessitates the WPA3 encryption method, generally rendering it incompatible with Wi-Fi 5 or older clients.
  • The reach of the merged link (of 5GHz and 6GHz) is limited to the range of the band with the shortest range.
  • By default, the 6GHz band has approximately 75% of the range of the 5GHz band when the same broadcasting power is applied. Therefore, MLO’s true potential can be actualized with the assistance of Wi-Fi 7’s forthcoming feature, Automated Frequency Coordination.

Evolution of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, was introduced in 2019 as a significant upgrade over the previous Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) standard. It was designed to improve network efficiency, particularly in crowded environments.

Key Features:

  • OFDMA: Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access allows for better efficiency by dividing a wireless channel into a large number of subchannels. Each of these subchannels can carry data intended for a different device. This technology reduces latency and increases efficiency.
  • MU-MIMO: Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output allows a Wi-Fi router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously, reducing the time each device has to wait for a signal and dramatically speeding up the network.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT): This feature allows devices to negotiate when and how often they will wake up to send or receive data, increasing device sleep time and substantially improving battery life in Wi-Fi 6-enabled devices.
  • Speed: Wi-Fi 6 has a theoretical maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps, but real-world speeds are typically much lower and depend on your specific setup.
  • Max negotiated speed: 2402Mbps via a 2×2 160MHz client

Wi-Fi 6E

Wi-Fi 6E is essentially an extended version of Wi-Fi 6 that operates in the newly opened 6 GHz band, in addition to the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. This new band is less congested and can support more devices at higher speeds.

Key Features:

  • 6 GHz Band: The main advantage of Wi-Fi 6E is the addition of the 6 GHz band, which has more non-overlapping channels than the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. This means less interference and better performance.
  • Increased Bandwidth: The 6 GHz band provides additional bandwidth, which can support more high-demand devices at once.
  • Improved Latency: The additional bandwidth and less congested 6 GHz band can also result in lower latency, which is particularly beneficial for gaming and real-time applications.
  • Speed: The maximum theoretical bandwidth is 9.6Gbps
  • Max negotiated speed: 2402Mbps via a 2×2 160MHz client

Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be)

Wi-Fi 7, also known as 802.11be, is the next generation of Wi-Fi technology that’s currently under development. It’s expected to provide further improvements in speed, latency, and efficiency.

Key Features:

  • Enhanced OFDMA and MU-MIMO: Wi-Fi 7 is expected to further enhance OFDMA and MU-MIMO technologies to support even more devices and provide even greater efficiency.
  • Multi-Link Operation: This feature will allow devices to use multiple bands (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz) simultaneously, potentially increasing the speed and reliability of the connection.
  • CMU-MIMO: Coordinated Multi-User MIMO is a new technology expected in Wi-Fi 7 that will allow multiple routers to work together and coordinate transmissions to multiple devices, improving overall network efficiency.
  • Speed: The maximum theoretical bandwidth is 46.1Gbps
  • Max negotiated speed:
    • 5.8Gbps via a 2×2 320MHz client or a 4×4 160MHz client
    • 2.9Gbps via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2×2 160MHz client
Paul MacMillan

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