Upgrading to a new version of Wi-Fi sounds great, but how much faster will the Wi-Fi 7 standard’s transfer speeds actually be? Let’s compare current standards with Wi-Fi 7 (also called 802.11be) and learn how your actual speed may vary.
Note: As of the time of writing in April 2022, Wi-Fi 7’s specs remain only in draft form and awaits final approval from the FCC. Despite some manufacturers already promising to ship Wi-Fi 7-enabled products, the standard is subject to change before approval actually happens.
Compared to Wi-Fi 5 (What You’re Probably Using)
If your router is reasonably new, it probably supports Wi-Fi 5, technically known as 802.11ac. Assuming your device is also Wi-Fi 5-enabled, you can expect to get a maximum transfer speed of 3.5 gigabits per second (Gbps).
However, that’s the theoretical maximum speed for optimal conditions only. You probably won’t actually achieve that speed. It’s influenced and brought down by factors like your internet plan, your Wi-Fi router’s location and surroundings, your device’s location, and interference coming from nearby networks.
Wi-Fi 7 under optimal conditions rockets past 5 with a maximum speed of 30 Gbps—a more than 750% increase. Not only that, but it’s also capable of utilizing bands that Wi-Fi 5 can’t access. That wider spectrum gives your router more elbow room, so to speak. Nearby networks won’t have to compete so rabidly for the same channels, allowing for reduced interference.
Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll jump directly from Wi-Fi 5 to 7 unless you seriously procrastinate about upgrading your equipment. You’ll probably switch to using Wi-Fi 6 or 6E before a Wi-Fi 7-enabled device ever gets in your hands.
Wi-Fi 7 vs. Wi-Fi 6 and 6E
If you’re on the bleeding edge of wireless technology, you’re probably using Wi-Fi 6, or less commonly, Wi-Fi 6E. If you were to upgrade to Wi-Fi 7’s draft specs right now, the improvement in speed capabilities wouldn’t be quite as dramatic as switching from Wi-Fi 5, but still impressive. Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, under optimal conditions, can achieve speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps, only a third of 7’s capability.
Wi-Fi 6E already has access to the 6 GHz band that Wi-Fi 7 will, avoiding the congestion problems of the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands. What 6E doesn’t have, though, is something called Multi-Link Operation (MLO), which further enhances Wi-Fi 7’s ability to avoid interference. That means 7 will handle the same channels that 6E does, but more effectively. Other advantages over 6 and 6E include higher quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) and broader channel bandwidth.
Wi-Fi 7 vs. Ethernet Connection
Right now, a wired internet connection is almost always faster and more reliable than your home Wi-Fi connection. Some have speculated, though, that a Wi-Fi 7 connection will be better than wired. This is potentially true only if you’re talking about Ethernet cables graded below Cat-8, which is a category of Ethernet cable that can be rated for speeds of up to 40Gbps. That said, Cat-8 is intended for data centers, not your home network. The cable that came with your router is most likely a Cat-5 or Cat-6 cable, rated no higher than 10Gbps.
As always, these comparisons are only valid if your network is set up in optimal conditions, which is difficult to achieve. While Wi-Fi 7 will bring improvements to the battle against interference and latency, exactly how well it will perform remains to be seen. And of course, Ethernet cables themselves are subject to slow-downs and issues.
Promised vs. Actual Speeds
So will you soon be surfing the ‘net at a crisp 30 Gbps? Probably not. Besides the other factors we mentioned earlier, your home internet plan probably doesn’t even come to close to providing that kind of speed. If you’re paying for two-gigabit internet, the most premium plan likely available to you as a residential customer, that means your speed will max out at 2 Gbps—no matter your equipment. Remember that Wi-Fi 5 already offers maximum speeds of 3.5 Gbps.
So does that mean it’s pointless to upgrade to a newer standard? Absolutely not. New wireless standards introduce new ways to help you get the speeds you’re paying for, better serve a multi-user household, and gain higher energy efficiency. So, next time you’re shopping for a router, aim for one with the latest standard.