Which WiFi standard to choose?

Etienne DETRIE (UK)
07 Mar 2024

WiFi standards evolve regularly, every 4 years or so (faster than cellular networks!). Not so long ago, these innovations were not really known to the general public, in particular because the standards had names that were too specific: 802.11n, 802.11ac, 802.11ax, etc. In recent years, the standards repository has become much easier to digest: WiFi 5, WiFi 6, WiFi 6E, WiFi 7...

Frieze evolution WiFi FR 2023

Is this the only reason why WiFi has suddenly become a real marketing argument for operators? Of course not. Operators are going where users expect them to go: down the path of speed and good radio coverage. That's why even mainstream operators are communicating about the WiFi standards used in their boxes.

WiFi 7: the latest approved standard

After the approval of the WiFi 6E standard in 2019, here comes WiFi 7 already.


WiFi 6E already offered some spectacular developments compared to WiFi 6:

  • Maximum theoretical speed of around 10.5 Gbps
  • Opening of a 3rd frequency band, 6GHz, which enriches the space available to make WiFi!

And WiFi 7 obviously confirms this new frequency band, while boasting spectacular speeds thanks to Multi-Link Operation.

So if you're looking to deploy a WiFi network in your business, chances are you'll be wondering about the relevance of installing a WiFi 6, WiFi 6E or WiFi 7 infrastructure, because you'll certainly want to have the best on the market. However, every problem has its own solution, and it will be up to your professional WiFi supplier to advise you, beyond the question of the new WiFi standard!


Should we switch to WiFi 7 now at all costs?

As is often the case, it's a question of balance with several criteria to analyse:

  1. The features / the level of service expected: WiFi 6, currently massively deployed, can support very high traffic (full Giga infrastructures) in very dense environments. This standard most certainly covers 99.9% of the needs of businesses today. You also need to keep an eye on the network capabilities of the equipment you plan to use (smartphones, computers, etc.). Today, WiFi 6E or WiFi 7 compatible smartphones represent a tiny fraction of the equipment in circulation today, both in the general public and in the professional world.

  2. The budget: when financial equilibrium is a key point of deployment, the use of 100% reconditioned professional equipment (high density WiFi 5 APs for example) may be the right answer. Indeed, the added value of an "as a service" network infrastructure lies above all in the know-how and software layer built by the operator.

  3. Sensitivity to responsible digital: the subject of quality is not so much in the WiFi standard as in the network implementation, configuration and supervision expertise. Put another way, as long as the equipment does not lead to functional limitations, we do everything we can to make it last over time. This approach allows us to pollute less while offering our customers high-performance multiservice WiFi that matches their challenges and budget.



The incompressible time for a standard to mature

Once a new standard is made official, it takes many years before we can speak of the standard's maturity.

On the one hand, equipment manufacturers and operators have to produce and market equipment compatible with the new standard. At the time of writing, few consumer operators are offering box packages that include WiFi 7. As far as B2B manufacturers are concerned, the biggest suppliers Cisco, Ruckus, Aruba & co have developed a few WiFi 7-compatible models to enhance their top-of-the-range catalogue. And, probably in 2 or 3 years' time, their WiFi 7 access points will end up being the same price as WiFi 6 for the simple reason that they will no longer be producing WiFi 6 kiosks.

On the other hand, it will take even longer before the terminals (phones, computers, tablets, etc.) in circulation (that people actually own) are mostly compatible with the new standard in question. Here's an edifying statistic that completely confirms this timeframe. At the end of 2023, in the student residences we operate with WiFi 6, here is the breakdown of user sessions by WiFi standard:

  • WiFi 6: 50%
  • WiFi 5: 23%
  • WiFi 4: 27%

This means, for example, that 27% of devices that have connected to our network are devices that only support WiFi 4... in 2023!!! Remember that WiFi 4 was officially approved in 2009. We really shouldn't underestimate the number of 'old' devices in circulation, or even the number of 'entry-level' devices that are rarely compatible with the latest standards.