As apps, games, and videos on our laptops and phones demand more bandwidth and Wi-Fi dependent smart-home devices become more integrated in our everyday lives, faster networking has never been in more demand. Businesses across all manner of industries also depend on the reliability and efficiency of their respective Wi-Fi networks, the benefits of high internet speeds becoming increasingly critical for employees and customers alike. As a consequence, the industry is responding. But how realistic are its ambitions?
The journey to enhanced connectivity
Wi-Fi 6 arrived in 2019, bringing considerable improvements to its predecessor. For one, the technology introduced OFDMA, which allows routers to divide channels into smaller radio bands to better support device heavy environments. Wi-Fi 6 also made leaps in making home and business networks more secure with the help of WPA3.
Enter Wi-Fi 6E. Building on all existing Wi-Fi 6 features, the new technology adds a third radio band at 6GHz. As demand for increased speeds and more reliable internet continues to increase, this additional bandwidth enabled our multi-device households and businesses to enjoy better connectivity.
Now, anticipation is mounting for Wi-Fi 7, the latest in Wi-Fi technology that promises to significantly boost the speed and solidity of wireless connections. But what makes it so different?
Upping the ante
Not only does Wi-Fi 7 promise drastically faster speeds and reduction in latency to radically improve the reliability and responsiveness of connected devices, it also offers concurrent access to multiple wireless bands - the critical differentiator between Wi-Fi 7 enabled devices and legacy generations.
Currently, devices usually choose one band to make transmissions, switching to another based on the availability of the connection. With Multi-Link Operation (MLO) however, Wi-Fi 7-enabled devices can simultaneously connect on two bands – making more efficient use of the available data to optimise the reliability of the connection and deliver ultra-low latencies.
The benefits of this to businesses are clear. Faster speeds equate to enhanced productivity and increased reliability equates to less tech-related downtime, resulting in enhanced efficiency. The benefits to consumers are also undeniable – in our modern, hyper-connected age, who wouldn’t value faster upload and download speeds for streaming, video calls and gaming?
There’s no denying the impressive nature of Wi-Fi 7. However, there is also no denying that we are, unfortunately, some way away from this Wi-Fi utopia.
There are distinct barriers preventing widespread implementation of the technology at this juncture in time. These barriers all fall under the same umbrella question – until we see true Wi-Fi 7 speeds enabled by the appropriate infrastructure and compatible technology, is the cost of implementing Wi-Fi 7 justified over implementing Wi-Fi 6 or 6E?
To get the most out of Wi-Fi 7, consumers will need to ensure their data plans offer beyond 100-Mbps broadband. In many areas, this is the maximum offered by internet service providers (ISPs). The same goes for the wired network to which the Wi-Fi access points connect. Since most Wi-Fi 7 access points will provide multigigabit wireless speeds, the typical Gigabit Ethernet would be an instant bottleneck. These criteria must be considered for true Wi-Fi 7 potential to be realised. In addition to infrastructure and internet subscription upgrade costs, the requirement for compatible Wi-Fi 7 devices will only increase potential costs further. Comparable to watching a 4K TV channel on a non-4K TV, without the hardware to support it, the benefits of Wi-Fi 7 cannot be enjoyed at its full capability.
As we enter a time of reduced budgets for both businesses and consumers, technology like Wi-Fi 7 is unlikely to be categorised as essential spending, particularly if the network already in place is operating at a sufficient level. And until ISP data plans evolve to widely support Wi-Fi 7’s capabilities - and compatible technology is widely available - this will, realistically, remain a challenge.
There is no doubt that Wi-Fi 7 will have its day. But it’s important to keep in mind that with current road blocks, the technology will take some time to reach its potential.
Implementation of Wi-Fi 7 – much like 5G - will be slow and steady and we can expect the technology to coexist somewhat alongside the Wi-Fi 6 and 6E. Nevertheless, it’s certainly wise for both businesses and consumers to start preparing for this new era of connectivity by updating legacy systems and devices for Wi-Fi 7 technology. As hybrid working practices become more entrenched, both businesses and workers will depend on reliable connectivity, particularly as cloud computing and mobile commerce become more ubiquitous. Wi-Fi 7 will no doubt provide that reliability when the time comes.
It’d be a mistake, however, to skip Wi-Fi 6 and 6E technology while waiting for Wi-Fi 7. Wi-Fi 6 and 6E provides an affordable and immediately available solution for businesses and consumers seeking a fast and reliable network. After all, it’s important to learn to walk before you can run.