Difference Between Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6, And Wi-Fi 5

Key Points

  • Wi-Fi 7 is expected to be released in January 2024.
  • It offers a theoretical throughput of 46.1 Gbps, supports MLO, has up to 320 MHz bandwidth, operates on 2.4 Ghz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands, and supports 4K-QAM.

Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6, And Wi-Fi 5 are all Wi-Fi standards. Although these are the older naming conventions they are still being used amongst the end users. These standards are developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and are now denoted by a set of numbers such as “802.11” followed by one of two alphabets indicating a specific variation of the standard.

At the time of writing this post, Wi-Fi 7, whose standard according to IEEE is 802.11be, is all the hype in the market. Wi-Fi 7 is expected to be released for the public and consumer products in January 2024. But the question remains; what is the new standard, why did they need it, and how is it different from its predecessors?

The first Wi-Fi standard came into existence in 1999, when IEEE made it compulsory for all Wi-Fi manufacturers to adhere to the same standards for optimized compatibility. Since then, many different iterations have been made that include significant speed improvements, greater bandwidth, reduced latency, etc.

Learn more about the different Wi-Fi standards.

Wi-Fi 7 vs. Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 5: An overview

Before digging into the details of each of these Wi-Fi standards, here is a brief comparison of the 3:

Difference Between Wi Fi 7 Wi Fi 6 And Wi Fi 5 Opt
Difference Between Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6, and Wi-Fi 5
Alliance NameWi-Fi 5Wi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6EWi-Fi 7
IEEE name802.11ac802.11ax802.11ax802.11be
Release year2014201920202024
Frequency bands5 GHz2.4 GHz
5 GHz
2.4 GHz
5 GHz
6 GHz
2.4 GHz
5 GHz
6 GHz
Bandwidth (MHz)20
40
80
80+80
160
20
40
80
80+80
160
20
40
80
80+80
160
20
40
80
80+80
160
320
MultiplexingOrthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM)Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)
Modulation256QAM1024QAM1024QAM4096 (4K) QAM
AntennaDL MU-MIMO (4 x 4)DL + UL MU-MIMO (8 x 8)DL + UL MU-MIMO (8 x 8)DL + UL MU-MIMO (8 x 8)
SecurityWPA2WPA3WPA3WPA3
Key features40MHz mandatoryTWT, BSS coloring, BeamformingTWT, BSS coloring, BeamformingMulti-Link Operation (MLO),
Multi-RU Puncturing
Maximum data rate3.5 Gbps9.6 Gbps9.6 Gbps46.1 Gbps
Comparison between Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6, and Wi-Fi 5

What is Wi-Fi 7?

Wi-Fi 7 is a wireless communication standard set by IEEE. By this standard, all devices that support wireless communication via Wi-Fi must meet certain criteria in order to label their devices with the appropriate Wi-Fi logo.

At the time of writing this post, Wi-Fi 7, or the IEEE 802.11be wireless standard is the latest wireless communication standard. This means that it is the fastest one available yet. Although it has not yet been published for end-consumer use, certain devices support this technology. This includes certain Qualcomm devices, like Immersive Home 326 Platform, Networking Pro 1620 Platform, and devices from other brands including TP-Link.

According to older rumors, Wi-Fi 7 was only being supported on Linux, Chrome OS, and Windows 11, and later operating systems. However, according to the latest findings, Wi-Fi 7 will also be supported on certain Windows 10 devices that have the supporting hardware.

Although the support for Windows 10 has not been officially announced, the specifications pages of the Wi-Fi 7 modules, which are Intel Wi-Fi 7 BE200 and the Wi-Fi 7 BE202, show that Windows 10 is compatible.

Intel Wi-Fi 7 BE200 shows support for Windows 10 OS
Intel Wi-Fi 7 BE200 shows support for Windows 10 OS

New in Wi-Fi 7 technology

As can be observed from the summary table above, Wi-Fi 7 offers significant performance improvements over Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 technologies.

Wi-Fi 7 offers up to 2.4 times throughput speeds compared to Wi-Fi 6E, and around 4.8 times compared to Wi-Fi 6. The max theoretical data rate for Wi-Fi 6 is approximately 9.6 Gbps while that for Wi-Fi 7 is around 46.1 Gbps, and twice the bandwidth (320 MHz channels vs. 160 MHz channels for Wi-Fi 6). With these numbers, Wi-Fi 7 is almost 13 times faster than Wi-Fi 5.

It also works across all three bands (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz) to fully utilize spectrum resources.

Wi-Fi 7 relies on the IEEE 802.11be standard, which enables Extremely High Throughput (EHT) and offers almost 100 times lower latency than the Wi-Fi 6 standard.

Wi-Fi 7 uses Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), which are radio frequency waves that send and receive data. The higher the modulation, the greater its ability to transmit information. Wi-Fi 7 supports 4K-QAM, while Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 support 1024-QAM and 256-QAM respectively.

With these advancements, perhaps the most significant one is Multi-Link Operation (MLO). This is a feature that allows Wi-Fi 7-supported devices to establish connections with other devices on multiple channels at the same time, across different bands as well. Therefore, Wi-Fi 7 does not only have wider channels (320 MHz) but also has the capability of using multiple channels at the same time.

After considering all of these improvements, you can see how Wi-Fi 7 is able to achieve such high throughput rates.

To sum up, here are the salient features of Wi-Fi 7 that are distinguishable from its predecessors:

  • 46.1 Gbps throughput
  • 100 times lower latency than Wi-Fi 6
  • Wider channels (320 MHz)
  • Triband operation (2.4, 5, and 6 GHz)
  • leverages the Extremely High Throughput technology
  • Supports 4K-QAM
  • Supports Multi-Link Operation

To learn more about Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, and Wi-Fi 5, click on the respective links below and see what new features they introduced in their times:

Ending words

Although the Wi-Fi 7 technology is way ahead of its predecessors in terms of performance, it will come at a cost. At the moment, no consumer-ready devices support this technology, since it is yet to be released. Therefore, the embedded (or external) hardware will need to be upgraded to get your hands on the fastest Wi-Fi standard yet.

Hence, only having the supported operating system will not be enough to experience Wi-Fi 7. Upgrading to the supported hardware will be necessary, and will come at a cost.

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Subhan Zafar is an established IT professional with interests in Windows and Server infrastructure testing and research, and is currently working with Itechtics as a research consultant. He has studied Electrical Engineering and is also certified by Huawei (HCNA & HCNP Routing and Switching).

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