Wi-Fi 7 has four major improvements over existing standards.
1. The all-new 320MHz channel width
The first is the new and much wider channel width, up to 320MHz or double that of Wi-Fi 6/6E.
Organically, this new channel width is only available on the 6GHz band, with up to three 320MHz channels. However, Wi-Fi 7 can combine portions of the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to create this new bandwidth — more in the Multi-Link Operation section below.
Details of Wi-Fi channels can be found here, but the new channel width generally means Wi-Fi 7 can double the base speed, from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz).
So, in theory, just from the width alone, a 4×4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 can have up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth — or 10Gbps when rounded up. But there’s more to Wi-Fi 7’s bandwidth below.
Depending on the configuration, Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points will be available in different speed grades, including those offering bandwidths higher or lower than 10Gbps on the 6GHz band.
Wi-Fi 7 also supports double the partial streams, up to 16. As a result, technically, a 16-stream (16×16) Wi-Fi 7 6GHz band can deliver up to over 40Gbps of bandwidth, especially when considering the new QAM support below.
Again, you need a compatible client to use the new 320MHz channel width. Existing clients will connect using 160MHz at best. And in reality, the 160MHz will likely be the realistic sweet-spot bandwidth of Wi-Fi 7, just like the 80MHz in the case of Wi-Fi 6.
2. The 4K-QAM
QAM, short for quadrature amplitude modulation, is a way to manipulate the radio wave to pack more information in the Hertz.
Wi-Fi 6 supports 1024-QAM, which itself is already impressive. However, Wi-Fi 7 will have four times that, or 4096-QAM. Greater QAM means better performance for the same channel width.
As a result, Wi-Fi 7 will have a much higher speed and efficiency than previous standards when working with supported clients.
Wi-F 7 vs Wi-Fi 6/6E: The realistic real-world speeds
With the support for the wider channel width and higher QAM, Wi-Fi 7 is set to be much faster than previous standards.
The table below summarizes what you can expect from Wi-Fi 7’s real-world organic performance compared to Wi-Fi 6E when working on the 6GHz.
|Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 7|
|Max Channel Bandwidth
|Number of Available Channels||7x 160MHz or 14x 80MHz channels||3x 320MHz or 6x 160MHz channels|
of Spatial Streams
(theoretical on paper / commercially implemented)
|8 / 4||16 / 8 (estimate)|
|1202Mbps (at 160MHz)
600Mbps (at 80Hz)
≈ 1.45 Gbps (at 160MHz)
|Max Band Bandwidth
(theoretical on paper)
|Commercial Max Band Bandwidth Per Band
|Actual Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)||2402Mbps
(via a 2×2 160MHz client )
(via a 2×2 80MHzclient)
(via a 4×4 320MHz client)
(via a 2×2 320MHz client or a 4×4 160MHz client)
(via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2×2 160MHz client)
(via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2×2 80MHz client)
(*) The real-world sustained speeds depend on the client and environment and generally are much lower than negotiated speeds. Wi-Fi 6/6E has had only 2×2 clients. Wi-Fi 7 will also use 2×2 clients but might have 4×4 and even single-stream (1×1) clients.
3. Multi-Link Operation
Multi-Link Operation, or MLO, is the most exciting and promising feature of Wi-Fi 7.
In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, MLO allows combining two Wi-Fi bands, such as 5GHz and 6GHz, into a single Wi-Fi network (SSID) and connection. The bonded link delivers higher bandwidth and reliability.
MLO only works at its full potential with Wi-Fi 7 clients, and in this case, it can be a game-changer in a wireless mesh network. We can potentially count on having no signal drop or brief disconnection. And it’s also when seamless handoff (or roaming) can become truly seamless.
On top of that, on each band, a connection can also intelligently pick the best channel, or channel width, in real-time. In other words, it can channel-hop, just like Bluetooth, though likely less frequently.
This new capability will help increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi 7’s range, allowing all its bands to deliver faster speed over longer distances than previous standards.
In more ways than one, MLO is the best alternative to the existing so-called “Smart Connect” — using the same SSID (network name) and password for all the bands of a broadcaster — which doesn’t always work as smartly as expected.
It’s important to note, however, that MLO will generally not support Wi-Fi 5 and older client since it requires a WPA3 encryption method. Additionally, for Wi-Fi 6 clients, this new feature remains similar to Smart Connect — the client will connect to one band at a time within the common SSID.
4. Automated Frequency Coordination
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) applies to the 6GHz band.
In an environment, existing applications can already use the spectrum. For example, fixed satellite services (FSS) or broadcast companies might have already had licenses to use certain parts of the band.
A new Wi-Fi (6E and 7) broadcaster must not impact those existing services — a concept similar to the use of DFS channels in the 5GHz band.
That’s when AFC comes into play. The idea is that all new 6GHz broadcasters check with a registered database in real-time to confirm their operation will not negatively impact other registered members, including existing Wi-Fi 6E or Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters.
The support for AFC means each Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster will have its free airspace to operate, meaning vendors can use more power and more flexible antenna designs.
In short, AFC compliance will help a Wi-Fi broadcaster improve range and connection speeds by preemptively creating a dynamically exclusive environment dependent on the current real-world situation, in which it can operate without the constraint of regulations, like the case of Wi-Fi 6E and older standards.
A crude AFC analogy
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) is like checking with the local authorities for permission to close off sections of city streets for a drag race block party.
When approved, the usual traffic and parking laws no longer apply to the area, and the organizers can determine how fast traffic can flow, etc.
Still, AFC works best when there is enough air space for the number of broadcasters in a particular location at any given time. This feature requires certification, and its availability is expected to vary from one region to another.