You may have seen headlines about the new Wi-Fi version that’s coming out, also known as Wi-Fi 7 (aka 802.11be if you’re into the old-school naming conventions). Wi-Fi 7 became an official certification recently and the question to be asked: What is it? And since higher numbers are obviously better, do you need to go out and buy it today? Let’s look into it.
First off, let’s look at what’s new with Wi-Fi 7. Like previous version upgrades, Wi-Fi 7 promises to further increase speeds, lower latency, lower power consumption and increase reliability. They’re doing this with a variety of fancy features like wider channels, multi-link operation and a bunch of fancy radio channel magic that is well beyond the scope of this article (we barely understand it). Basically, it does some cool stuff that will make things perform better.
But here’s the thing: Wi-Fi 7 only works if everything in the chain is Wi-Fi 7. So your client device (your laptop or phone, for example) and your Wireless access points (the things that broadcast the wireless signal) have to all be Wi-Fi 7 compatible. Since the standard is so new (the certification program only came about in early January), business-stable devices and networking equipment are only just now starting to roll out. Most of the client devices we sell are only Wi-Fi 6 capable (aka 802.11ax), and many access points that are out there in production are only Wi-Fi 5 capable (aka 802.11ac). For most businesses, their older Wi-Fi 5 equipment is going to work fine as they don’t have serious congestion or performance issues because their wireless network isn’t getting hammered. And if you are having issues, upgrading to Wi-Fi 7 on all your devices might not fix the problem, as you may have radio interference or congestion issues that need to be worked out first.
That all being said, the Wi-Fi alliance has always done a great job of backwards compatibility. So if you get a new laptop that’s Wi-Fi 7 certified and capable, it will still work with a Wi-Fi 6, 5, 4 or older network until everything gets upgraded down the road. That will allow you to piece-meal your wireless upgrade and not have to spend a bunch of cash outright.
So long story short: No need to jump to replace all your wireless equipment with Wi-Fi 7 quite yet – just do it during your usual replacement schedule.