What is Wi-Fi 7? Understanding the Latest Generation of Wireless Technology


Wi-Fi 7 is the seventh generation of Wi-Fi. It is based on the forthcoming IEEE standard 802.11be, known as Extremely High Throughput (EHT). Built on previous generations of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 7 will be backward compatible with and include new capabilities to reduce latency, increase throughput, and continue to boost stability and efficiency.

The Wi-Fi 7 standard 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 over 20 billion Wi-Fi devices already in use globally, the Wi-Fi Alliance anticipates that the number of Wi-Fi 7 devices will reach over 233 million by 2024, with expectations to surge to 2.1 billion by 2028.

Understanding New Features and Capabilities of Wi-Fi 7

Starting out with new features and capabilities. Some new things you’re going to start to hear a lot about include:

  • Multi-Link Operation (MLO): Multi-link connectivity across bands and channels to increase throughput, lower latency, and enhance reliability.
  • Flexible Channel Utilization: Preamble puncturing to bypass channels experiencing interference, enabling the use of wider channels even amidst disruptive signals.
  • 320 MHz wide channels: Realizes significant throughput enhancements with expanded channel bandwidth and additional capacity provided by the 6 GHz spectrum.
  • 4K-QAM: Achieves 20% higher transmission rates than 1024 QAM.
  • Enhanced Spectral Efficiency: OFDMA improvements with multiple resource units to a single device.
  • Backward Compatibility:  Wi-Fi 7 ensures backward compatibility with earlier Wi-Fi generations across the 2.4 and 5 GHz legacy bands, as well as with Wi-Fi 6E within the 6 GHz band.
  • Increased Data Rates: Faster data transfer rates will cater to the demands of high-bandwidth applications.
  • Greater Range: Wi-Fi 7 will further drive 6 GHz regulatory adoption of Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) and Standard Power.
  • Augmented User Experience – Promises to deliver the secure and seamless connectivity and mobility that users have come to expect from Wi-Fi.
  • Reduced Risk, Enhanced Security – Mandated support for WPA3-Enterprise, WPA3-Personal, and Enhanced Open Security. Encryption is always used in the 6 GHz band.

These innovative features and enhancements will empower enterprise IT teams to more effectively support an increased number of devices, users, and bandwidth-intensive applications, while also catering to low-latency apps. Additionally, they will boost team productivity, optimize operations, and surpass customer expectations for businesses.

How Does Wi-Fi 7 Differ From 6E and 6?

So now you might be asking yourself, how does this generation truly differ from previous generations? Here are some high-level points.

Frequency Band

Wi-Fi 6: Operates in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, which were already in use by previous Wi-Fi standards.

Wi-Fi 6E: Extends Wi-Fi 6 into the 6 GHz band, providing additional, uncrowded spectrum for faster and more reliable wireless communication. Wi-Fi 6E devices can also transmit in the legacy 2.4 and 5 GHz bands.

Wi-Fi 7: Operates in all three bands, 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz, and has theoretical speeds of up to 46 Gbps.

Efficiency and Performance

Wi-Fi 6: Introduced multi-user efficiency capabilities such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). This technology is analogous to a highway where lanes can be dynamically resized and allocated to different vehicles based on size and destination. Multiple users can communicate simultaneously in different lanes (resource units) within a channel, optimizing the data traffic flow and enhancing the network's efficiency.

Wi-Fi 6E: Marked the debut of an additional 1200 MHz of pristine spectrum in the 6 GHz band. Wi-Fi 6E can be compared to opening a new, unobstructed expressway that has no traffic lights or interruptions, effectively doubling the road capacity compared to the existing 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. This new exclusive 6 GHz expressway allows for faster data transmission speeds and less interference, akin to cars (data) moving more swiftly and smoothly without the hindrance of congestion found on older roads.

Wi-Fi 7: Introduces Multi-Link Operation (MLO), enabling client devices to simultaneously connect to an access point across two or more channels spanning different bands. A helpful analogy for this update is to imagine two highways leading to your destination. MLO is akin to providing the flexibility to distribute traffic across both highways and to swiftly redirect traffic from one to the other if congestion occurs.

When will Wi-Fi 7 be Available?

It's already here! When the IEEE first announced the draft of the standard back in March 2021, manufacturers started building technology. Final ratification of the standard is expected later this year, but the Wi-Fi Alliance, the agency tasked with ensuring interoperability amongst Wi-Fi products, announced its certification program, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 7, in January 2024 as technical requirements around the standard are essentially complete. With this certification program launching the expectation is additional devices, access points, and routers will start coming out more steadily.

Extreme Networks announced its first enterprise Wi-Fi 7 access point in January 2024 as well. 

As I mentioned earlier, over 233 million devices are expected this year. In addition to that number, the analyst firm 650 Group predicts that over 13 Million enterprise-grade Wi-Fi 7 APs are expected by 2027.

Potential Impact of Wi-Fi 7 on Future Technologies

Overall, as you’ve read, Wi-Fi 7 and any other generation operating the 6 GHz band represents a significant advancement in wireless technology, promising to meet the growing demands of modern connectivity and enable a more efficient and reliable wireless experience for users.

As we transition into the era of 6 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity, consider investing in Wi-Fi 7 or Wi-Fi 6E technologies to future-proof your network for the upcoming five years. Utilizing the 6 GHz spectrum is crucial for enhancing bandwidth and capacity, reducing network latency and most importantly, ensuring a superior quality Wi-Fi user experience.

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About the Author
David Coleman
Director, Wireless Networking at the Office of the CTO

David D. Coleman is the Director of Wireless Networking at the Office of the CTO for Extreme Networks. David is a technology evangelist, public speaker and proficient author.

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