The global semiconductor shortage really likes to get in the way of any tech it touches, and that includes routers. Wi-Fi 6 is what most would consider the current standard, when really we should be well and truly in the Wi-Fi 6E era by now given many products launched back in mid 2021. Unfortunately the shortage has severely impacted the uptake of this new tech which is likely going to be replaced by Wi-Fi 7 before it ever really had a chance (opens in new tab).
Signs that it might just be best to skip over Wi-Fi 6E for those looking to upgrade are only increasing with The Register (opens in new tab) reporting that Qualcomm has thrown its support to WiFi 7. This hard lean into the newer Wi-Fi 7 standard has been driven largely by the larger throughput demands of things like VR, AR, and potential metaverses while still meeting the latency requirements to engage in such games.
"That introduces challenges, where you have to deliver this extremely high throughput - which is the tagline for Wi-Fi 7 at the IEEE - but you have to deliver that extremely high throughput at sustained low latency. So an application such as VR obviously needs throughput, but you have to actually hit the latency targets to make it work," Andy Davidson, Qualcomm's senior director for Technology Planning told The Register.
Wi-Fi 7 is also set to allow for multi-link operation to help with congestion. This means devices can potentially connect to multiple channels, choosing the least congested one or potentially even using more than one channel.
"Prior to Wi-Fi 7, clients would just attach on one of those channels, and use the one that was most appropriate for the needs. But with multi-link, the client can connect to the AP on multiple channels. And it can use that to avoid congestion. So if one of those channels has traffic on it, you can use another channel and therefore you can get lower latency," Davidson explained..
It all sounds like very cool tech that will be incredibly helpful for those with high demands on their networks, but again that’s assuming people can get their hands on them. Supply of Wi-Fi 7 routers can be expected to run into troubles with the chip shortage just as everything else is, but hopefully that will have calmed down by the time they reach retail availability.
The question remains as to whether or not you can even use them. Some countries still have very limited access to the 6GHz spectrum used by Wi-Fi 6E so those routers currently aren’t really any better than regular Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 7 will run into the same issues if the infrastructure (and legisaltion) doesn't catch up.