If you can't tell the difference between Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e, look out: Wi-Fi 7 is already on its way.
Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek said last week that it had conducted the first live demonstrations of the next-gen wireless-networking specification, which the Wi-Fi Alliance claims will be "capable of supporting a maximum throughput of at least 30 Gbps" when Wi-Fi 7 arrives in the next couple of years.
"The rollout of Wi-Fi 7 will mark the first time that Wi-Fi can be a true wireline/Ethernet replacement for super high-bandwidth applications," MediaTek corporate VP Alan Hsu said in a company press release.
He added that the new protocol will "provide seamless connectivity for everything from multi-player AR/VR applications to cloud gaming and 4K calls to 8K streaming and beyond."
MediaTek said the demonstrations were for "key customers and industry collaborators," but didn't name them, and we don't know how well the demonstrations went.
Wi-Fi 7, officially known as Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standard 802.11be, is still being finalized and is expected to be ready for the consumer market in early 2024. That timeline didn't stop MediaTek from predicting that the first "products with Wi-Fi 7 are expected to hit the market starting in 2023," presumably just in time for that year's holiday shopping season.
Wi-Fi 7 uses the same spectrum chunks as Wi-Fi 6/6e (aka 802.11ax) — 2.4, 5 and 6 gigahertz (GHz) — but, according to MediaTek, will be able to deliver data more than twice as quickly, due to a much wider bandwidth for each channel and various other technical improvements.
If Wi-Fi 7 can indeed deliver speeds of 30 gigabits per second (Gbps) to compatible devices, that would be nearly as fast as the 40 Gbps possible with the Thunderbolt wired-networking protocol, and much faster than the 1-gigabit Ethernet currently available to many consumers. The new standard could make running cables between devices completely obsolete.
However, it's unlikely that a home ISP will be able to deliver data speeds of anything close to 30 Gbps in the foreseeable future. Wi-Fi 7's applications would initially be for moving huge amounts of data around the local network — such as between VR goggles, 8K TVs and the like — rather than distributing what comes in from outside.
The first Wi-Fi 7 routers may be very expensive, if the first crop of Wi-Fi 6e ones are any indication. Netgear sells a Wi-Fi 6e gaming router, the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500, for $599; its first Wi-Fi 6e mesh-router system, the Orbi WiFi 6E, goes for $1,499. A somewhat more affordable model, the Linksys Hydra Pro 6E, is a mere $499.