WiFi 7, also known as 802.11be Extremely High Throughput (EHT), is the latest wireless networking standard that promises faster speeds, lower latency, and increased reliability compared to previous WiFi generations. It builds on the capabilities introduced in WiFi 6 and 6E to further enhance performance.
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Real World Performance
The theoretical throughput of WiFi 7 is expected to reach 46 Gbit/s in comparison to the 9.6 Gbit/s throughput of WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E.
In terms of real-world speeds, clients will be limited to 2×2 MIMO with 320MHz channel width, giving 4.8Gbps and using MLO to combine the 5GHz and 6GHz could, in theory, give 9.6Gbps, but WiFi 7 modules from Intel, which are used in PCs and laptops have a maximum speed of 5.8 Gbps.
In terms of real-world throughput, currently, WiFi 6/6E can achieve around 1.5Gbps when the connection registers at 2.4Gbps, so it should be possible to achieve over 3Gbps when in close proximity to a router. This works out at 375 MB/s.
WiFi 7 Equipped Devices
Most, if not all, flagship Android phones for 2024 that use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 will have WiFi 7, and Intel has the BE200 and BE202 modules, which will provide WiFi 7 for many laptops and computers in the coming years.
The Acer Swift Edge 16 was one of the first laptops to launch with WiFi 7, and this uses the Qualcomm FastConnect 7800 chipset, which is the same as used in mobile SoCs.
Many networking vendors have announced WiFi 7 products, and in the US, many of these are becoming available.
Netgear has announced the ultra-premium Orbi 970 mesh system, and TP-Link has announced three separate mesh WiFi 7 systems, four routers and an access point.
Key Features of WiFi 7
Here is an overview of some of the key features of WiFi 7:
320 MHz Channel Width
WiFi 7 supports channel widths up to 320 MHz on the 6 GHz band, doubling the maximum channel width of 160 MHz supported by WiFi 6E. Wider channels allow more data to be transmitted at once, increasing throughput. With 320 MHz channels, WiFi 7 enables wireless speeds up to 30 Gbps theoretically.
However, to take advantage of the full 320 MHz channel width requires compatible WiFi 7 clients. Existing WiFi 6E clients will connect at 160 MHz or less. In practice, 160 MHz may remain the common channel width, providing a good balance of speed and range. 320 MHz channels are also only currently available in the 6 GHz band, limiting devices to that frequency.
WiFi 7 increases the maximum number of simultaneous data streams with Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) from 8 spatial streams in WiFi 6/6E to 16 spatial streams. This allows an access point to transmit data to up to 16 devices concurrently, doubling WiFi 6’s capacity.
More spatial streams translates to higher throughput, assuming ideal conditions. However, client devices will likely only support 2-4 spatial streams in the near future. The increased MU-MIMO capacity will improve network efficiency in dense, high-demand environments where many devices are connecting.
WiFi 7 introduces 4096-QAM modulation, up from WiFi 6’s 1024-QAM. QAM modulates radio signals to encode more data bits per transmission. The higher the QAM, the more data can be transmitted simultaneously.
4096-QAM increases throughput by encoding more data per waveform. However, it requires very high signal-to-noise ratios only achievable at short ranges under ideal conditions. Expect 4096-QAM to boost peak speeds but 1024-QAM will likely remain common.
Multi-Resource Unit (Multi-RU) support allows access points to divide the wireless channel into smaller subchannels. Multi-RU enables multiple clients to transmit simultaneously on the same channel by assigning each client a separate subchannel.
This improves network efficiency and reduces latency in dense environments with many devices contending for bandwidth. It prevents clients from having to wait their turn to transmit on the full channel.
WiFi 7 introduces preamble puncturing, which allows data transmissions to interrupt and puncture through the preamble phase of other transmissions. This improves network efficiency by not having to wait for the full preamble to finish before transmitting.
Preamble puncturing reduces latency, especially for short data packets. It allows low latency transmissions to “jump the queue” and not get blocked by long preamble transmissions. This is advantageous for time-sensitive applications like gaming or VoIP.
A key innovation in WiFi 7 is Multi-Link Operation (MLO) which allows combining channels across multiple frequency bands into a single logical link. For example, transmitting simultaneously on 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz to aggregate bandwidth.
MLO enables load balancing between bands and switching channels to avoid interference and congestion. This improves both throughput and reliability compared to being locked to a single channel.
MLO also helps mitigate the short range limitations of the 6 GHz band by allowing fallback to 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz at longer distances. Expect up to 2-3x faster speeds with MLO by combining channels and bands.
WiFi 7 introduces several groundbreaking innovations to wireless networking. Key features like 320 MHz channels, 16×16 MU-MIMO, 4096-QAM, Multi-RU, and MLO aim to improve speed, capacity, latency, and reliability.
While early WiFi 7 devices are already available, widespread adoption will take time as the standard matures, and 2024 should see WiFi 7 become mainstream for premium devices.
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