Wi-Fi’s next big upgrade is officially here

Wi-Fi’s next big upgrade is officially here
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The Wi-Fi Alliance is now officially certifying devices that support Wi-Fi 7, the next generation of wireless home internet. With certification, Wi-Fi 7 devices are guaranteed to interoperate, and in 2024, we will see new tech products like phones, laptops, and routers endowed with the standard, which could represent huge speed and efficiency gains compared to even Wi-Fi 6E.

The alliance says in its announcement that Wi-Fi 7 will be better than existing standards for things like high-bandwidth streaming and low-latency wireless gaming, and that’s crucial as virtual reality gains popularity and people continue commuting to their kitchen tables or home offices to commune with co-workers over Zoom. Kevin Robinson, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, told The Verge that Wi-Fi 7 is the “first generation built from the ground up” for the 6GHz band — the faster, broader swath of wireless spectrum first used by Wi-Fi 6E devices.

You might be tempted to point out that Wi-Fi 7 routers already exist, and you’d be right. Routers have already hit the market from companies like Netgear, TP-Link, and Eero, and the first two came months ago. They may or may not get certification — Eero’s existing Wi-Fi 6 routers don’t show up on the alliance’s certified product finder. That doesn’t mean they won’t work well with Wi-Fi 7 devices in the future, but certification allows companies to guarantee that they will.

Certification aside, nothing’s changed about Wi-Fi 7 since we published our guide on it in October. It still offers double the channel bandwidth — from 160MHz to 320MHz — versus the fastest devices on the Wi-Fi 5, 6, or 6E standards, and that means the potential for wireless downloads at over two gigabits per second.

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It will also debut Multi-Link Operation (MLO), which is essentially wireless link aggregation — bonded connections spread across two or three of the 2.4 GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz bands, giving you more speed and more stability since walking out of range of one band doesn’t mean you have to reconnect to get on another.

MLO also offers a latency benefit. Ordinarily, device connections are restricted by airtime — the time it takes for the router to cycle through others queued up to send packets over the network. Robinson told The Verge that with all three bands available simultaneously, there’s “a very, very high probability of getting that packet out immediately.”

That could be a big deal if your network is pokey, although Robinson said not every router will necessarily support connecting to all three bands at once. A more affordable router may only connect two bands at a time, for instance. That’s better than now, where the best routers still only support one connection per device, but if getting the full force of the Wi-Fi 7 standard is important to you, you’ll probably have to spend more cash.

There are other bits and bobs of the new standard that the alliance says will mean more efficiency, throughput, and stability, and Wi-Fi 7 devices will be backward-compatible with previous versions of Wi-Fi. Older devices won’t directly benefit from new features on a Wi-Fi 7 router, but it won’t be long before new laptops and phones will. For now, though, it’s more helpful to think of a new Wi-Fi 7 router as upgraded infrastructure — a plan for the future.


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