What is Wi-Fi 7 — and do you even need it?

Hold onto your digital seatbelts because there’s a new player in town – Wi-Fi 7! Just when you thought your wireless internet experience couldn’t get any better, the next generation of Wi-Fi is making its grand entrance.

It’s been about four years since Wi-Fi 6 made its debut and only two since Wi-Fi 6E joined the party, but the world of connectivity never rests.

So, let’s dive into the latest in Wi-Fi technology, Wi-Fi 7, and see if it’s time to embark on a router shopping spree or if you can hold off for a bit. Get ready, because the world of Wi-Fi just got a whole lot more interesting!

Okay, let’s get serious here – Wi-Fi 7 has the potential to be a bigger speed boost than what we saw with Wi-Fi 6E. This is partly thanks to the wide-open space in the 6GHz band that Wi-Fi 6E introduced. Wi-Fi 7 is also set to introduce some smart tricks to make things faster and more reliable while reducing network delays.

Now, if this all sounds familiar, it’s because Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E also promised to tackle interference issues and boost speed, especially if you had compatible devices.

The good news is that you don’t have to toss out all your old gadgets and devices just yet. Wi-Fi 7 should work just fine with your existing stuff. And as you gradually replace your phones, computers, and other wireless gadgets with ones that support the new standard, you can expect things to get even better.

The big question now is whether you should rush out to buy a Wi-Fi 7 router immediately or hold off for a little while longer.

What is Wi-Fi 7?

Think of Wi-Fi 7 as the newer, better version of Wi-Fi 6E, just like Wi-Fi 6 was an upgrade from Wi-Fi 5. It still works on the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz bands, similar to Wi-Fi 6E, but it’s all about improving things.

Wi-Fi 7 gives you more potential for faster downloads, and it does this by combining connections across different bands, which not only makes downloads faster but also more stable. It’s like making your internet more reliable when things get busy.

Now, there’s some talk about Wi-Fi 7 making 8K video streaming possible, but I’m not entirely convinced. Even if 8K streaming becomes common, most modern routers can handle it without much trouble.

The most significant advantage of Wi-Fi 7, right off the bat, is its speed – it’s faster, which means quicker downloads and smoother online experiences.

So Wi-Fi 7 will actually be faster?

Yes, Wi-Fi 7 is going to be faster. To give you an idea, a “typical” Wi-Fi 7 laptop could potentially reach speeds of nearly 5.8Gbps, though, in practice, even half of that is pretty darn fast for most folks.

One of the big reasons for this speed boost is the channel bandwidth, which is like the size of the pipe that data flows through. Wi-Fi 7 doubles the maximum channel bandwidth to 320MHz, compared to the 160MHz you find in good Wi-Fi 5, 6, and 6E routers.

It’s like having a bigger pipe, so it can carry more data. But note that these super-sized channels are only available on the 6GHz band; there’s not enough room on the 5GHz band.

Wi-Fi 7 also supports combining different bands into a single connection using something called Multi-Link Operation (MLO). In simple terms, if you can download a file at 1Gbps on the 6GHz band and another at 700Mbps on the 5GHz band, combining these two connections could give you a total speed of up to 1.7Gbps.

This also means that if one of these connections has a problem, your device can switch to the other one. We’ll have to see how well this works in real-life tests once Wi-Fi 7 routers and devices are available.

Additionally, Wi-Fi 7 doubles the number of MU-MIMO spatial streams, which are like the number of conversations a router can have with different devices at once. Wi-Fi 6 supports 8 x 8 MU-MIMO, meaning a router with eight antennas can talk to eight devices simultaneously.

For Wi-Fi 7, it’s 16 x 16. However, it’s worth noting that most consumer-grade Wi-Fi 6E routers only offer 4 x 4 MU-MIMO, even though the standard can handle more. And it can be a bit tricky to find phones, laptops, and other Wi-Fi devices that can make full use of these extra streams.

Will Wi-Fi 7 make my smart home reliable?

Wi-Fi 7 holds promise for making your smart home more reliable. In a busy wireless environment, smart devices can sometimes act sluggish or unresponsive. This happens because they have to wait their turn to talk to the router.

Wi-Fi 7 tries to fix this by fitting more data into something called a carrier wave using a method called OFDMA. Wi-Fi 6E also does this, but it can struggle with interference.

Wi-Fi 7, on the other hand, kind of ignores the interference and uses the clear parts of the wave, like a river flowing around a rock and rejoining on the other side.

There’s a catch, though. OFDMA doesn’t work with older devices. So, if a Wi-Fi 7 router meets an older smart home device (like one using Wi-Fi 4), it has to talk to it in the older device’s way, and that can slow things down for everyone else.

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In short, Wi-Fi 7 can potentially make your smart home work better, but it might not fully deliver on that promise until all your devices have moved over to the new standard.

What else will Wi-Fi 7 be good for?

Wi-Fi 7 holds promise for making your smart home more reliable. In a busy wireless environment, smart devices can sometimes act sluggish or unresponsive. This happens because they have to wait their turn to talk to the router.

Wi-Fi 7 tries to fix this by fitting more data into something called a carrier wave using a method called OFDMA. Wi-Fi 6E also does this, but it can struggle with interference.

Wi-Fi 7, on the other hand, kind of ignores the interference and uses the clear parts of the wave, like a river flowing around a rock and rejoining on the other side.

There’s a catch, though. OFDMA doesn’t work with older devices. So, if a Wi-Fi 7 router meets an older smart home device (like one using Wi-Fi 4), it has to talk to it in the older device’s way, and that can slow things down for everyone else.

In short, Wi-Fi 7 can potentially make your smart home work better, but it might not fully deliver on that promise until all your devices have moved over to the new standard.

The chip in the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is capable of Wi-Fi 7 — it’s just not enabled yet. Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

When will I get Wi-Fi 7 on my devices?

Wi-Fi 7 is on the horizon, but it’s not widespread just yet. You can already buy Wi-Fi 7 routers, but you don’t need to rush out for one. Why? Well, only a few devices can use Wi-Fi 7 at the moment, and it’s not even officially finalized.

However, some devices are starting to embrace this new technology. Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7800 chip, for example, came out in 2022 and is already in some phones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. But keep in mind, that the phone manufacturer needs to enable Wi-Fi 7 for it to work.

The 16-inch Acer Swift Edge laptop also supports Wi-Fi 7, and Intel plans to release its BE200 Wi-Fi 7 network card before the end of 2023. As time goes on, more computers from major manufacturers will start to support this new standard, so you can expect Wi-Fi 7 to become more common in the coming years.

The caveats

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Early Days: Wi-Fi 7 is still in its early stages, and most of its advantages won’t be noticeable until manufacturers start using it widely. Right now, many products still use Wi-Fi 5. So, unless you really want to be on the very cutting edge, there isn’t a strong practical reason to rush into Wi-Fi 7 with a new router.

2. Not Yet Standardized: Wi-Fi 7 hasn’t been officially adopted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) yet. This means that routers available before that might lack key features or optimizations. Some features, like the doubled channel width, are clear improvements, while others, like MLO, are promising but not thoroughly tested.

3. High Cost: Early Wi-Fi 7 routers are expected to be some of the most expensive ever released. For example, the Eero Max 7 mesh system is anticipated to cost nearly $1,700 for a three-pack.

So, should you buy a Wi-Fi 7 router now or wait? If you’re hoping for Wi-Fi 7 to revolutionize your entire network, it’s a good idea to wait.

The standard isn’t finished, and there are only a few devices that support it. You won’t see the full benefits for months or even years.

It’s also wise to wait until the standard is finalized and the Wi-Fi Alliance starts certifying Wi-Fi 7 routers to ensure they fully comply with the finished standard. Until then,

these routers are likely to be expensive, and there won’t be enough devices supporting their advanced features to justify the cost.