Due For Introduction In 2024, WiFi 7 Promises Incredibly High Data Speeds — Here's How It's Game-changing

Anand Parthasarathy

Dec 11, 2023, 03:05 PM | Updated 03:05 PM IST

WiFi 7 is expected to be deployed around mid-2024. (Image: Wireless Broadband Alliance)
WiFi 7 is expected to be deployed around mid-2024. (Image: Wireless Broadband Alliance)

Even as most consumers are still content to use routers and home hotspots, adhering to the standard known as WiFi 5, things might change in the coming year.

In the new year, they will have the option to upgrade to WiFi 7, jumping the entire generation of appliances and devices which adhere to WiFi 6.

This happens when technology changes too fast. Routers and WiFi USB adapters for WiFi 6 were pricier than for WiFi-5 (known, until recently, as 802.11 ac), and came to India quite a few years after the standard was promulgated — which saw the overwhelming majority of lay users stick with their legacy hardware.

But the value proposition promised by WiFi 7, expected to be deployed worldwide around mid-2024, is so compelling that almost all enterprise and industry users — and quite a few consumers — may be persuaded to upgrade.

WiFi 7 is nearly five times faster than WiFi 6. (Graphic: TP-Link)
WiFi 7 is nearly five times faster than WiFi 6. (Graphic: TP-Link)

This is because, like the Godfather, WiFi 7 makes us an “offer you can’t refuse”: data communication speeds that are about five times faster than WiFi 6 and 13 times faster than the best that WiFi 5 offers us today.

This opens up new use scenarios across consumer, business, education, government, medical, industrial, hospitality, public venues, and transport applications.

Wireless networks at home will support movie and video streams in 8K quality — better than the best on TV today.

Video conferencing, whether with family and friends or for professional webinars, will enable extended reality (XR) applications, merging the real and virtual worlds.

Massive social gaming will be a cinch, even on personal devices like laptops and handphones.

Latency — the time gap between sending and receiving a chunk of data — will see a hundred-fold improvement over WiFi 6, eliminating those buffering problems when streaming entertainment content.

Thanks to the scalability of MIMO — the "multiple in, multiple out" technology that uses multiple antennas, both at the transmitter and the receiver, in a wireless communication link to speed up the data rate by a factor equal to the number of antennas used (and, incidentally, is the invention of a United States-based Indian, Dr A Paulraj) — WiFi 7 doubles the number of spatial streams from eight to 16.

This means that dozens of devices can use a home or office WiFi 7 router without any one device experiencing a degradation in the quality of the signal.

WiFi 7 also doubles the channel width over WiFi 6 to 320 MHz. This upgrade enables many more simultaneous transmissions at faster speeds.

WiFi 7 Ecosystem Is In Place

Though the standard, underlying WiFi 7 is expected to be finalised only by May 2024, the supporting ecosystem is already in place.

Mediatek, the semiconductor chipmaker, has been among the earliest to cater to WiFi 7 appliance makers by launching two hardware solutions, Filogic 860 and Filogic 360, which can be used to build new-generation access points or fuel devices that combine WiFi 7 with Bluetooth.

Qualcomm, whose chips power so many smartphones, has launched a series of WiFi 7 platforms — and handset makers like OnePlus, Lenovo, Asus, and Google (Pixel) have been among the first to launch WiFi-7-compatible phones in the market.

The new Android version, Android 13, supports WiFi 7 devices, as does the latest Linux 6.2, while the Linux 6.5 kernel has been worked by Intel to support a key feature of WiFi 7 — MLO or Multi Link Operation.

This means that, for the first time, you can connect simultaneously over all three frequencies that are available in a WiFi 7 router (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz), instead of choosing one or the other. ‘OR’ has now become ‘AND’.

Incidentally, 6 GHz is the new band that WiFi is designed to use. It is expected that many countries will leave this band unlicenced and make it available for offering free public WiFi services.

If I can hazard a guess, this is not likely to happen in India, where the government sees telecom spectrum as a valuable commodity, one that it has always sold to the highest bidder.

Going by past experience, no part of it will be delicenced and free-to-use.

Early WiFi 7 routers for enterprise from IO by HFCL (left) and for the home-office from TP-Link 7
Early WiFi 7 routers for enterprise from IO by HFCL (left) and for the home-office from TP-Link 7

At the India Mobile Congress in New Delhi during October, India-based telecom equipment player IO by HFCL launched what is said to be the world’s first enterprise-grade WiFi 7 access point. It will be ready to ship in the first quarter of next year and the company is already taking orders.

Home WiFi 7 Router Already Available

A home WiFi router may be the device that most of us would need to upgrade to avail of WiFi 7 speeds when service providers offer them.

When I checked e-commerce websites on Sunday (10 December), I saw that at least one router maker, TP-Link, has already launched a WiFi 7 device in India. It is the "TP-Link Archer BE900 Quad-Band BE24000 WiFi 7 Router."

If you were intending to go in for a new router anyway, you can future-proof your purchase to be WiFi-7-ready for whenever it is launched in India.

But be prepared to pay quite a bit more — almost 10 times the price of your old WiFi 5 router. The new TP-Link WiFi 7 router costs Rs 54,999 on both Amazon and Flipkart and about Rs 2,000 less on a site called Moglix that I have not tried.

Note that the "24,000" in the part number is the speed in MBPS that it is rated for — that is, 24,000 MBPS or 24 GBPS.

So, the stage is set for the rollout this year of unheard-of speeds in WiFi connections. The new standard behind WiFi 7, IEEE 802.11be, is subtitled "Extreme High Throughput," lest there be any doubt about its main selling point.

Be prepared for zippier times ahead.

Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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