WiFi 7 Is Coming: Here's What to Expect

    This next-generation of WiFi will be faster, more responsive, and more reliable, experts say

    A neon wifi and 7 sign. Illustration: Consumer Reports, Getty Images

    Better WiFi may be closer than you think.

    Members of the wireless industry are currently putting the finishing touches on WiFi 7, a new router standard that promises faster speeds, better responsiveness, and fewer hair-pulling disconnections.

    That means snappier Xbox GamePass downloads, quicker uploads to Google Photos, and less time waiting around for Netflix streaming to start after you’ve hit the play button on your smart TV remote.

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    Last month, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry consortium that certifies WiFi devices, finalized Draft 2.0 of the WiFi 7 spec. With that in hand, manufacturers can now start building WiFi 7-compatible products.

    “I think you’ll start seeing WiFi 7 discussions and product announcements at CES in January,” says Kannan Vardarajan, director of product management at Linksys, referring to the annual tech industry trade show in Las Vegas.

    To be clear, Vardarajan is not tipping us off to a Linksys product launch in this interview (hey, I tried), but other people in the know also have 2023 circled on their calendars.

    “I’m sure that in 2023 there’s going to be someone coming out with WiFi 7 products, because there are always trailblazers,” says Carlos Cordeiro, PhD, the wireless chief technology officer for Intel’s Client Computing Group and chairman of the board of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

    But wait, you might be thinking, aren’t WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E relatively new?

    Believe it or not, WiFi 6 was certified in 2019—eons ago, given how challenging the past three years have been. And while WiFi 6E was adopted in 2021, it’s simply an extension to WiFi 6, rather than an all-new spec.

    So yes, we’re about due for a new WiFi standard.

    “Previously, we were moving at more of a six-year time frame between WiFi generations,” Cordeiro says. “Now we’re trying to do more of a four-year cadence, driven by increased demand and, let’s be honest, competition from the cellular industry.”

    That’s right, companies like Verizon and T-Mobile offer 5G-based home internet. And according to one industry report, Americans have an average of 16 internet-connected devices in their homes these days, up from 13 in 2021.

    While it may take more than a year before WiFi 7 routers appear in full force on store shelves, here’s what to look for in the months ahead.

    The Benefits of WiFi 7

    The chief improvements for WiFi 7 are faster speeds and better responsiveness. And considering how well WiFi 6 routers have performed in our router ratings (available to members), that’s likely to mean good things.

    The Wi-Fi Alliance tells us WiFi 7 will support a maximum throughput of at least 30 gigabits per second, more than three times as fast as the 9.6 Gbps maximum of WiFi 6.

    Some napkin math: a 4K Blu-ray disc clocks in at 50 gigabytes, which would take some 42 seconds to download using WiFi 6. With WiFi 7, that would drop to about 13 seconds. So any time you’re dealing with a large download—my copy of Madden NFL 23 started downloading 50GB worth of updates the moment I inserted it into my PS5, for example—the benefits of WiFi 7’s speed should be clear.

    We’re unlikely to see speeds quite that fast in the real world, for all sorts of reasons, including wireless interference, but that doesn’t mean the upgrade won’t be noticeable.

    Latency might be less of a headache as well. That’s particularly important for time-sensitive applications like gaming (including virtual reality and augmented reality applications) and smart device interaction. The last thing you want is to miss a tasty hanger in MLB The Show because Juan Soto’s timing is off on your PS5, or for your party guests to become frustrated because of vibe-killing delays in the music from your smart speaker.

    WiFi 7 may also be a lot smarter than previous generations of WiFi, thanks to a feature called multilink operation. This, Cordeiro says, will allow wireless devices to send and receive data over three bands (2.4 gigahertz, 5GHz, or 6GHz), shifting at any time based on traffic and speed.

    Why does this matter?

    Let’s say you live in a crowded apartment building and your neighbors are flooding the airwaves with wireless traffic: smart TVs streaming 4K Netflix, HomePods playing Apple Music 1 radio, and content creators uploading video to YouTube or streaming live on Twitch around the clock. (Heck, that sounds like a highly competitive Mario Kart 8 tournament happening right next door.)

    Now let’s say you have an important Zoom call for work and it’s just about to start. 

    With WiFi 7, your wireless router will be able to determine which of the three bands is the least crowded and direct your Zoom call to that one, ensuring that you take care of business without delay.

    As you may recall, WiFi 6E pioneered the push into the 6GHz band, a swath of wireless spectrum off-limits to WiFi before 2020. WiFi 7 will not only provide access to this band but also do so with twice as much bandwidth, expanding each channel from 160 megahertz to 320MHz. Think of that, basically, like doubling the number of lanes on a highway.

    As with previous generations, WiFi 7 can also be identified by a more technical term—802.11be—which you may see at times on product labeling and, yes, Consumer Reports wireless router ratings. 

    It also will be backward compatible with previous-generation WiFi devices. That means you’ll be able to connect your 4-year-old iPhone, hand-me-down Fire tablet, and virtually any other wireless device in your home to a WiFi 7 router. The devices won’t suddenly operate faster, getting the full benefits of the new standard, mind you, but at least you won’t have to mothball them just because you want to buy a new router.

    When Can You Buy a WiFi 7 Router?

    Right now, there’s no exact launch date for WiFi 7, but we’ll probably see some devices compatible with the standard surface in the latter half of 2023.

    That’s how the WiFi 6 rollout worked.

    Widespread availability will follow in 2024.

    In the meantime, WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E routers will continue to appear on store shelves, eventually at a discount. (A few WiFi 5 routers are still in our ratings.)

    Plain ol’ WiFi 6 does not support the 6GHz band, of course, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a bargain but live in a densely populated building or a neighborhood with slower service during peak traffic times.

    Should You Avoid a WiFi 6 Router?

    A fast and reliable router is a critical component of your home WiFi network, especially if you work remotely, so if you’re in the market for a new model, don’t delay your purchase simply because there’s a new spec on the horizon.

    Put it this way: A few years ago, finding the best wireless router for your budget wasn’t exactly top of mind, unless you had a home filled with gamers. But today, when more than half of Americans work from home at least one day a week, according to a June McKinsey survey, a fast and reliable router is practically a necessity.

    How else are you supposed to binge-watch “Better Call Saul” on Netflix?

    And with the holidays fast approaching, odds are good you’ll see some great deals on WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E routers in the months ahead.

    There are plenty of highly recommended models in our ratings—all tested in our labs north of New York City. These are routers that will help you stream video smoothly, work remotely, and vanquish your foes in Mario Kart without breaking a sweat. Even better, many are available for less than the price of a nice dinner downtown.

    For now, at least, you’re better off with the advances of a well-designed WiFi 6 router than the promised perks of a router yet to come.

    Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

    Nicholas De Leon

    I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).