Could Wi-Fi 7 replace Ethernet?

02-02-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

Wi-Fi has barely been around, and MediaTek has already demonstrated Wi-Fi 7 operating at speeds of up to 30Gbps. What is Wi-Fi 7, what did MediaTek demonstrate, and could it replace Ethernet?

What is Wi-Fi 7?

It only seemed like yesterday that Wi-Fi 6 was making headlines on its improved performance over Wi-Fi 5, its use of the new 6GHz spectrum, and the better use of MIMO antenna with beamforming so that devices can be specifically targeted. While Wi-Fi 6 is still yet to be deployed in mass (most devices on the market are either Wi-Fi 4 or 5), the next generation of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 7, is already in the works.

Wi-Fi 7, also known as IEEE 802.11be, is said to be the next amendment of the 802.11 IEEE standard, and its introduction could usher in a new realm of network connectivity. According to the proposed outline, Wi-Fi 7 will continue to use the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz spectrum but increase the bandwidth to 320MHz, and multi-band/multi-channel aggregation will be used. The speed of Wi-Fi 7 is expected to exceed 30Gbps, and the use of 16 spatial streams combined with MIMO protocol enhancements will enable more reliable communication.

While Wi-Fi is ideal for residential and commercial spaces, it is unsuitable for industrial applications involving real-time processes due to inherent latencies in Wi-Fi protocols and the lack of time-sensitive message handling. However, Wi-Fi 7 aims to solve this by introducing IEEE 802.1Q Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) extensions to enable real-time traffic routing. Additionally, the inclusion of TSN will see timing and synchronisation, MAC enhancements for video streaming, asynchronous traffic scheduling, and algorithms for reducing jitter.

MediaTek demonstrates Wi-Fi 7

Even though Wi-Fi 7 standards are yet to be established, companies worldwide are already developing devices to test and develop new features for it. Recently, MediaTek has been demonstrating prototype Wi-Fi 7 devices to key customers and industrial partners on what it can do and how it can be used.

According to multiple sources, MediaTek has demonstrated Wi-Fi 7 technology at 30Gbps, which is significantly faster than its predecessor, Wi-Fi 6, which generally peaks at 9.6Gbps. However, 30Gbps is expected to be the lower end of transmission speed with an upper estimate of 40Gbps. If this speed does become the norm, it would be as fast as an Apple Thunder Bolt 3 connector which operates at 40Gbps.

Of course, this does not take into consideration how many devices are connected to a network. Just because a single Wi-Fi 7 device can operate at 40Gbps does not mean that 100 devices connected to the same network can all expect such speeds. In their demonstration, MediaTek also showed how Wi-Fi 7 can be used to combine multiple channels together on different frequency bands. This helps to mitigate against interference and congestion on bands that are being used frequently.

Could Wi-Fi 7 replace ethernet entirely?

If Wi-Fi 7 really can exceed 30Gbps, then there is a very strong possibility that ethernet could see itself become less relevant in networks. However, it should be understood that such speeds may only be possible when one device is talking to another in a mostly empty channel; adding 100 devices to a Wi-Fi 7 network could drop speeds dramatically.

As such, Wi-Fi would never be able to replace ethernet cables in servers and data centres where there are tens of thousands of individual networked machines. But for homes and offices where devices are less frequently used, Wi-Fi 7 could very easily replace ethernet in its entirety.

However, Wi-Fi 7 may be a key player in future industrial applications by integrating time-sensitive networking. While there can be thousands of devices in an industrial application, most of these send a handful of bytes of information at a time, which would result in low traffic utilisation. Thus, Wi-Fi 7 could prove to be a reliable network for industrial systems where the installation of cables and routers can be challenging.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.