What to Expect When You’re Upgrading to Wi-Fi 7 from Wi-Fi 5 and Earlier Generations of Wireless


Moore’s Law observes that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every two years with minimal rise in cost. This has held true since the mid-1960s. And since then, we’ve only seen technology continue to advance and our wildest sci-fi imaginations become real. As exciting as this innovation is, it’s also creating a daunting task for IT teams tasked with staying ahead of the curve and ensuring connectivity for all the new technologies.

Enter the availability of the 6 GHz band. Opening 6 GHz has unlocked a new superhighway of connectivity that will enhance bandwidth and capacity, reduce network latency, and, most importantly, ensure superior-quality Wi-Fi experiences. Wi-Fi operating in 6 GHz will truly future-proof networks for at least the next five years. 


Both Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 operate in the 6 GHz band and offer similar outcomes (we discuss the similarities and differences of the generations in this blog post), but for the purposes of this blog we’ll focus on things to know when upgrading to Wi-Fi 7, including key considerations to be aware of, challenges that could arise, and opportunities that could present themselves.

What is Wi-Fi 7?

Wi-Fi 7 builds upon its predecessor, Wi-Fi 6, and is designed to meet the increasing demands of modern connectivity and mobility. Wi-Fi 7 aims to provide a more reliable and efficient wireless experience, building on the era of 6 GHz connectivity that began with Wi-Fi 6E. With blazing-fast data rates and advanced multi-user capabilities, Wi-Fi 7 is poised to meet the demands of today's bandwidth-hungry applications and tomorrow's emerging technologies.

Understanding the Upgrade Path

Before diving into the intricacies of upgrading to Wi-Fi 7, it's essential to understand the transition path from previous generations of Wi-Fi. While Wi-Fi 7 offers significant advancements in speed, efficiency, and reliability, the upgrade process may vary depending on the existing infrastructure, hardware compatibility, and organizational requirements. Key steps in the upgrade path include:

  • Assessment: Evaluate the current network infrastructure, including access points, controllers, and client devices, to determine backward compatibility with Wi-Fi 7. Draft a comprehensive list of applications that will be used on the new Wi-Fi 7 environment. Clearly define how the Wi-Fi network will be used now and in in the future.
  • Planning: Develop a comprehensive upgrade plan that outlines objectives, timelines, budget considerations, and potential challenges.
  • Testing: Conduct thorough testing of Wi-Fi 7 equipment in a controlled environment such as a secure staging area to ensure compatibility, performance, and reliability.
  • Design:
    • RF: While 1:1 replacement of access points (APs) might be possible in an environment where every room has an AP, historically a 1:1 replacement strategy has never been a good idea. Therefore, we highly recommend the use the predictive RF modeling tools available from Extreme partners such as Ekahau and Hamina.
    • Wired integration: APs are effectively portals into your wired infrastructure. Therefore, PoE and Muti-Rate are important consideration during the design phase. 2x2:2 Wi-Fi 7 APs with require 25 watts of PoE Plus for full functionality, while 4x4:4 Wi-Fi 7 APs will need 32+ watts of 802.3bt power. A re-evaluation of your access switch power budget capabilities is critical. Additionally, 1 Gbps Ethernet uplinks from your AP to your switches now have the potential of becoming a bottleneck. For future-proofing purposes, you should consider upgrading your access switches to support 2.5 Gbps or even better 5 Gbps Ethernet capabilities.
  • Deployment: Roll out Wi-Fi 7 access points and infrastructure upgrades according to the established plan, minimizing disruption to users and operations.
  • Validation: It is critical that immediately post-deployment, a proper validation survey is performed to verify the RF model created during the design phase. Validate coverage, roaming and application performance.
  • Optimization: Based on findings from the validation survey, fine-tune Wi-Fi 7 configurations, optimize coverage and capacity, and address any performance issues or connectivity challenges post-deployment.

Addressing Compatibility and Interoperability

One of the primary challenges IT teams may encounter when upgrading to Wi-Fi 7 is compatibility and interoperability with existing hardware and software. While Wi-Fi 7 is backward compatible with previous generations of Wi-Fi, ensuring seamless integration and performance across heterogeneous environments requires careful planning and testing. Key considerations include:

  • Hardware Compatibility: Assess the compatibility of existing access points, controllers, switches, and client devices with Wi-Fi 7 standards and specifications. Determine if firmware updates or hardware upgrades are necessary to support Wi-Fi 7 features and functionality. It should be noted that Wi-Fi 7 is backward compatible with previous generations of Wi-Fi, however, a timely upgrade of corporate devices with 6 GHz Wi-Fi radios is recommended.
  • Software Integration: Evaluate the compatibility of network management software, configuration tools, and security solutions with Wi-Fi 7 deployments. Ensure that software vendors provide updates and patches to support Wi-Fi 7-specific features and protocols. (Read this blog post to learn how Wi-Fi 7 networks are enhanced with cloud management.)
  • Interoperability Testing: Conduct rigorous interoperability testing with third-party devices, applications, and services to verify seamless operation and compatibility with Wi-Fi 7 networks. Collaborate with vendors and industry partners to address any compatibility issues or interoperability challenges proactively.

Leveraging Advanced Features and Capabilities

Upgrading to Wi-Fi 7 presents IT teams with an opportunity to leverage advanced features and capabilities that enhance performance, reliability, and security. From faster data rates and improved spectrum utilization to enhanced multi-user support and robust security protocols, Wi-Fi 7 enables organizations to optimize their wireless networks and user experiences. Key features and capabilities of Wi-Fi 7 include:

  • Increased Data Rates: Take advantage of faster data rates and increased bandwidth to support bandwidth-intensive applications, high-definition streaming, and emerging technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality.
  • Efficient Spectrum Utilization: Optimize spectrum utilization and minimize interference with advanced technologies like OFDMA. Utilize the pristine environment of the 6 GHz spectrum. Consider segmenting mission-critical applications to 6 GHz.
  • Enhanced Security: Strengthen security posture with built-in security features such as WPA3, enhanced encryption, and authentication protocols, mitigating security risks and safeguarding sensitive data.
  • Improved Reliability: Enhance network reliability and coverage with innovations like multi-link operation (MLO) and preamble puncturing have the potential to minimize packet loss and ensure a stable connection in diverse environments.

These new advanced features and capabilities will power new use cases as well. Extreme’s David Coleman sheds some light on new possibilities and use cases Wi-Fi 7 will power in this short video.


Embracing the Future of Connectivity

As IT teams navigate the transition to Wi-Fi 7 from earlier generations of Wi-Fi, they must embrace the future of connectivity with confidence and foresight. By understanding the upgrade path, addressing compatibility and interoperability challenges, and leveraging advanced features and capabilities, organizations can optimize their wireless networks for the demands of tomorrow. With Wi-Fi 7, the future of connectivity is within reach—empowering organizations to unlock new possibilities, drive innovation, and enhance productivity in an increasingly connected world.

Want to learn more? Sign up or watch an Extreme Live Demo of Extreme’s Wi-Fi 7 technologies or reach out to our team to discuss your network requirements, pain points, and goals to get a customized solution to meet your unique network needs and business objectives. 

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Lisa Yeaton
Senior Social Media Manager

Lisa Yeaton is a Senior Social Media Manager at Extreme Networks. In her role, Lisa oversees all of Extreme's corporate social media accounts and creates corporate communications content.

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