Wi-Fi 7 Is Almost Here, but Experts Say It Still Won’t Replace Ethernet

Been there, done that

Key Takeaways

  • MediaTek claims to have demonstrated Wi-Fi 7 hailing it as a true replacement for wired ethernet.
  • The Wi-Fi 7 specification is still being drafted and won’t be finalized until at least 2024.
  • Experts believe Wi-Fi 7 is overkill for most users, considering the fact that the first devices will be prohibitively expensive.
Hand connecting yellow internet cable to hub

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The next-gen wireless networking standard promises to deliver speeds that can outpace wired ethernet, though experts aren't sure how its advantages will translate in the real world.

While Wi-Fi 6E routers are still a novelty, Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek has already conducted the first live demonstrations of Wi-Fi 7, calling it "a true wireline/Ethernet replacement." Technologists, however, believe it's still too early to dream about a wire-free home.

"We should always take new announcements about Wi-Fi beating Ethernet with a pinch of salt, as it's been said before many times and never is it true," Liam Dawe, owner of GamingOnLinux, told Lifewire over email. "It sounds interesting, but real-world applications need to be seen."

Lightning Fast

On January 19, 2022, MediaTek announced it had shown off two demos of Wi-Fi 7 technology to "key customers and industry collaborators."

In its demonstration, the company explained that its Wi-Fi 7 device uses the same 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz frequencies as Wi-Fi 6E (technically 802.11ax) but can still provide about 2.4 times its speed. That's even with the same number of antennas, thanks to various technical improvements, including much wider bandwidth for each channel.

Notably, the Wi-Fi Alliance is still creating the Wi-Fi 7 standard. Technically known as 802.11be by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Wi-Fi 7 is expected to provide a max throughput of at least 30Gbps, making it over three times faster than Wi-Fi 6's 9.6Gbps, and almost ten times faster than Wi-Fi 5's 3.5Gbps.

MediaTek claimed its demo was powered by the multi-link operation (MLO) technology, which aggregates multiple channels on different frequency bands simultaneously. The company asserts this enables network traffic to flow seamlessly even if there is interference or congestion on the bands.

According to Dignited, Wi-Fi 7 uses 16 Multi-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) streams, which is double the number of streams on Wi-Fi 6. Since most devices like laptops and phones usually have two receiving and two transmitting antennas, a Wi-Fi 7 router will enable more users to stream simultaneously without a drop in performance.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Surprisingly, besides the tech info, MediaTek hasn't shared any details about the actual demonstration itself and hasn't identified the customers given the demo. While its release did talk about the technical advantages of Wi-Fi 7, it didn't comment on the demonstration itself nor mention the use cases that were shown.

In the release, MediaTek corporate VP Alan Hsu noted that Wi-Fi 7 will "provide seamless connectivity for everything from multi-player AR/VR applications to cloud gaming and 4K calls to 8K streaming and beyond."

However, it's unlikely that a home ISP will be able to deliver transfer speeds of anything nearing 30Gbps anytime soon. This means that Wi-Fi 7 would initially accelerate moving huge amounts of data around the local network for all intents and purposes, such as between VR goggles and high-resolution 8K TVs.

Young Girl Surprised During The Virtual Reality Experience At Home

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There's also the fact that the IEEE doesn't expect the Wi-Fi 7 specifications to be finalized until 2024. But that hasn't stopped MediaTek, which has been helping develop the standard, from claiming it'll introduce its Wi-Fi 7 range of devices sometime in 2023. While devices based on draft specifications have hit the shelves earlier as well, they could theoretically pose compatibility issues.

Then there's the issue of pricing. The first Wi-Fi 6E routers, such as Linksys Hydra Pro 6E, cost $499.99, while Netgear's Nighthawk RAXE500 retails for $599.99.

All things considered, Dawe believes it is too early to mourn the death of ethernet. "Honestly, I am very skeptical of Wi-Fi ever beating Ethernet, especially on latency, and Wi-Fi is far more prone to disruptions."

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