Wi-Fi 7 is the latest in wireless networking technology that will revolutionise how we connect to media, gaming, cloud computing and each other. Will it replace Ethernet? How is it different from Wi-Fi 6? These questions and more will be answered in this article.
In this article
The origins of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi was created in 1997 when the 802.11 committee was formed, with Vic Hayes - so called "father of Wi-Fi" as chair. The standards that define WLANs (Wireless Local Area Networks) were developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers LAN/MAN Standards Committee using an open and accredited process, and given the snappy title: IEEE802.11.
These standards established a basic specification of 2MBps (megabytes per second) of data transfer wirelessly, and put paid to trailing wires and Ethernet cable trip hazards in bedrooms and dining rooms around the world, as wireless routers became the newest technology addition in homes from 1999 onwards.
More interesting than these origins is the invention of Wi-Fi, which is credited to one Hedy Lamarr - an Austrian-American actress and inventor who co-invented a "frequency hopping" radio wave technology for torpedoes during the second World War, to prevent them being intercepted by the enemy. The U.S. Navy would decide not to adopt the technology, but the patent lived on in history.
Not only did Lamarr succeed in having this tech patented, she was also jointly awarded the Pioneer Award by The Electronic Frontier Foundation alongside co-inventor, George Antheil. Lamarr received an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the development of this frequency hopping technology in 2014. In recognition for these inventions, Lamarr is known as the "mother of Wi-Fi" along with other technology such as GPS and Bluetooth.
What is Wi-Fi 7?
We have certainly come a long way since the first wireless routers allowed us the freedom to connect our devices to the internet and each other at 2MBps. With an incredible increase in data transfer rates in the last two decades, we are now capable of delivering speeds of ~1250MBps, or around 10Gbps (gigabits) per second, enabling faultless and buffer-free 4K video streaming, gaming, live streaming on Twitch and more.
Wi-Fi 7 is the latest wireless technology that falls in line with the immense data transfers the world demands right now, with 8K video, virtual reality, 4K live streaming and other excellent use cases requiring cutting edge Wi-Fi standards. Whilst Wi-Fi 6 has been a wildly successful standard, offering the aforementioned 10Gbps, the time is right for an upgrade to our smartphones, tablets, media devices, and wireless network cards in both laptops and desktop PCs.
Wi-Fi 7 vs Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6E
"Wi-Fi 7 addresses the needs of people around the world, as they will quickly evolve over the next few years, as each gen builds on its predecessor. Wi-Fi ‘s key benefits, including consistent ultra-low latency and improved performance in dense environments, are expected to serve these developing usages: 8K A/V Streaming, AR/VR, Cloud gaming, interactive applications, Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0, tele-diagnostics and telesurgery." - Intel
Image courtesy of Intel
As the image suggests, Intel are keen to usher in this "new era in wireless", as their dedicated coverage shows. Their Wi-Fi 7 feature on the Intel website provides an in-depth look at every aspect of the advancements the new technology is making, and how Intel will play their (pretty huge) part in the market.
Broadcom and Intel doubled up to demo the capabilities of Wi-Fi 7 recently, demoing a 5 gigabits per second data transfer. This cross-vendor demo is a fantastic sign of things to come for anyone in the market for a new PC or laptop in the next two years, with Wi-Fi 7 being mentioned alongside PCIe 5, DDR5, ATX 3.0 and new CPU platforms from both AMD and Intel.
How fast will Wi-Fi 7 be?
Wi-Fi 7 - 36Gbps data transfer rate
The number we're all interested in, of course, is the data transfer rate. At ~36 gigabits per second, Wi-Fi 7 more than triples the current speed of Wi-Fi 6 / 6E, but also offers further advancements in the standards set by IEEE.
The IEEE 802.11be amendments to the 802.11 IEEE standards address the needs of the modern wireless device user, with a focus on the type of data that is being transferred, as much getting it where it's going even faster. The primary goal of Wi-Fi 7 is to enrich the experience of those who consume media in all forms, with gaming and video streaming taking centre stage in the feature set.
What are the benefits of Wi-Fi 7?
Most of the technological advancements of Wi-Fi 7 can leave you cross-eyed, but for those of us (present company included) who would rather not get a computer science degree to decipher Wikipedia, we have an explanation below of some of the more useful Wi-Fi 7 features.
IEEE 802.11be & Wi-Fi 7 Features (and what they mean to the rest of us)
- 320 MHz bandwidth and more efficient utilisation of non-contiguous spectrum - an improvement over current 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands which uses 6 GHz, and reduces drops in QoS (Quality of Service). In reality this means you shouldn't experience any visual deterioration in immersive VR and AR games, for example, when using Wi-Fi 7.
- Integrating Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) IEEE 802.1Q extensions for low-latency real-time traffic - although perfect technology for live streaming gamers and creators, TSN has many applications in industrial scenarios, where real-time updates are critical for safety and security.
- Multi-band/multi-channel aggregation and operation - ensures lower latency and higher throughput in congested environments such as offices and homes. By simultaneously using multiple channels and bands, Wi-Fi 7 finds and uses the most optimal for your connection.
- 16 spatial streams and Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) protocols enhancements - an increased performance for data streams such as video and gaming, transmitting independent data streams on multiple antennas simultaneously.
- Multi-Access Point (AP) Coordination - where multiple access points are used in a network, special coordination of these transmissions is required. Wi-Fi 7 is built to handle this and achieve the most efficient transmission possible.
- Enhanced link adaptation and retransmission protocol using Hybrid Automatic Repeat Request (HARQ) - HARQ combines Forward Error Correction (FEC) and Wi-Fi 6 ARQ together. Any incorrectly received data blocks are stored with the receiver, and a resend request is sent to the transmitter. When the correct data blocks are received and acknowledged, the receiver combines the data for a complete and correct data block. This protocol is an improvement over ARQ, where any incorrect data was discarded, leading to latency.
Wi-Fi 7 feature & benefits in a nutshell
In essence, Wi-Fi 7, the advancements of wireless manufacturers, and the standards it conforms to are all geared towards making our connected world that bit faster and more reliable. With almost every device in your home and office being capable of Wi-Fi and being controlled by AI assistants and IoT devices, the congestion is nearing critical mass for most WLANs.
Wi-Fi 7 offers efficiencies, higher throughput and much better coordination of the sheer volume and diversity of data that routers are currently dealing with, and aims to deliver a reliable and superior experience for every type of user, from gamers to power station engineers.
Will Wi-Fi 7 replace Ethernet?
There are many who believe that Wi-Fi 7 is ushering in a brave new world in network connectivity. Alan Hsu, the corporate vice president and general manager at Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek, the rollout and adoption of Wi-Fi 7 "will mark the first time that Wi-Fi can be a true wireline/Ethernet replacement for super-high-bandwidth applications."
This quote has now surfaced on thousands of blogs and online magazines, along with counters like "overkill for most users" and talking about routers being "prohibitively expensive". Whilst cynicism is quite fashionable in technology circles, we can take the words of Mr. Hsu with a degree of trust. MediaTek are the chip makers for TP-Link, D-Link and Buffalo, producing game-changing technology such as the MediaTek MT7915 - a CPU that already delivers some of what Wi-Fi 7 promises. Deeply embedded in Wi-Fi 6 technology already, MediaTek will lead the charge, it seems, in bringing us Wi-Fi 7 routers.
Will Wi-Fi 7 be expensive?
As for affordability, there are many cases where certain features can be culled such as in the TP-Link Archer AX20 AX1800 Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Router (a very affordable and stable Wi-Fi 6 router priced under £80 in December 2022). The AX20 is a mass market router, using the MediaTek MT7621A network accelerator and the latest MT7915 Wi-Fi 6 connectivity platform delivering exceptional streaming and data transfer performance.
The real bonus, of course, is that because it is a mass market router - it is within the financial capabilities of most people. Wi-Fi 6 technology is a young one, in the grand scheme of things, so a little optimism wouldn't go astray.
When will Wi-Fi 7 be released?
Wi-Fi 7 will release in 2023 - 2024
MediaTek announced their Filogic 380 chip in May 2022, a stand-alone 6nm single-chip for Wi-Fi 7 and Bluetooth 5.3 for smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, wearables and other devices, which tells you a lot about where their current R&D phase is at. MediaTek will potentially be one of the first to release Wi-Fi 7 in routers, leaning on their excellent relationships with leading vendors like ASUS and TP-Link.
Intel has made plans to release their Wi-Fi 7-certified products to the market by aligning with the Wi-Fi Alliance certification schedule. In essence, this means a 2023–2024 time frame when we start seeing routers and motherboards equipped with Wi-Fi 7 networking capabilities, with laptops and desktops shedding the Wi-Fi 6 certification and including the new and improved Wi-Fi 7 logos.
It is a similar story with AMD, though they have been somewhat slower off the blocks in proffering Wi-Fi 7 benefits for AMD consumers. You can certainly expect to see Wi-Fi 7 in AMD motherboards around the same time as Intel, across the new AM5 chipset stack.
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