TP-Link is one of the top router manufacturers, and it's bringing a new fleet of models to market in 2023, the company announced Monday. All of them will support Wi-Fi 7, the upcoming generation of Wi-Fi technology. They're the first Wi-Fi 7 routers to make a public debut -- and it's a particularly early one, as Wi-Fi 7 isn't expected to launch in any official sense until 2024.
With the potential for significantly faster top speeds and better performance in high-congestion environments thanks to new features like 4096QAM and support for 320MHz channel width, Wi-Fi 7 (also known as 802.11be) stands to be another big step forward for wireless networking. By design, it builds on Wi-Fi 6E, which introduced home networks to the recently opened, ultrawide 6GHz band -- Wi-Fi 7 should continue to put that band to work, and it could introduce new features that allow devices to send data over multiple bands at the same time.
But -- again -- it isn't here yet. While some manufacturers are already starting to roll out hardware based on initial drafts of the standard, a final release of Wi-Fi 7 is still at least several months away, if not more than a year away. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the group responsible for developing new versions of Wi-Fi, has been working on Wi-Fi 7 for years now, but full ratification isn't planned to happen until 2024. From there, the Wi-Fi Alliance, a networking industry group, should begin certifying new Wi-Fi 7 devices, just as it's done with previous generations, including Wi-Fi 6.
That means that TP-Link's new routers, which are expected to start shipping out in the first quarter of next year, will hit the market without industry certification. There will also be few, if any, Wi-Fi 7 client devices like phones and laptops, which will be capable of taking full advantage of the still unreleased standard. Devices like those might not start saturating the market until 2025.
TP-Link still sees a benefit for early adopters though, and it points to its Deco line of mesh routers to make the case. The new TP-Link Deco BE95 system is, "the most powerful mesh system we've ever built," the company says. It has multiple Ethernet jacks supporting incoming wired speeds as high as 10 gigabits per second and a quad-band design with two separate 6GHz bands in addition to the usual 2.4 and 5GHz bands. With top theoretical wireless speeds as high as 11,520 megabits per second -- more than 11 gigs per second -- the system can use one of those 6GHz bands as a dedicated wireless backhaul for sending data between Deco devices on its way from the far corners of your home to the cloud.
That, TP-Link says, means that people will benefit from the faster Wi-Fi 7 connection between extenders, even without any other Wi-Fi 7 devices on their network. Still, it's a questionable pitch given the continued lack of high-speed broadband access across much of the country.
"Multi-gig internet plan is required to achieve Wi-Fi speeds over 1Gbps," reads the fine print on TP-Link's press release announcing the new routers. "Actual wireless performance will vary based on network environment and condition.
While multi-gig internet plans are indeed on the rise, the average home's internet speed still currently sits somewhere around 200Mbps in the US. ISP speeds like those serve as a speed limit for home Wi-Fi networks, which means that most homes are likely still years away from being able to take full advantage of routers like these.
Then there's the question of cost. Early adoption doesn't come cheap. With the Deco mesh line, the top-end BE95 system will cost $1,200 for a two-pack, while the Deco BE85, a tri-band version with a single 6GHz band, will debut at $1,000 for a two-pack. Both prices are several hundred dollars higher than any other Deco mesh system currently on the market.
It's not just mesh, though. TP-Link's new Wi-Fi 7 lineup includes a couple of standalone routers for the Archer lineup, too. Most eye-catching among them is the $700 Archer BE900, which sports a futuristic, upright design that looks more like a gaming console than a router, complete with LED touch controls on the front face. Like the Deco BE95 system, it's a quad-band Wi-Fi 7 router with two separate 6GHz bands. Meanwhile, the Archer GE800 is the company's new flagship gaming router, with a literal flagship design that looks like something in which a miniature Darth Vader might fly into battle.
Both are big swings, but the benefits to the average user seem even less clear than the Deco devices, which can at least put Wi-Fi 7's technology to work as a mesh backhaul. I asked TP-Link if the new standalone Wi-Fi 7 routers will essentially function as Wi-Fi 6E routers until there are Wi-Fi 7 client devices that speak the same language.
"That's totally correct," a TP-Link spokesperson acknowledged. "Wi-Fi 7 is backwards compatible with Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 6, and Wi-Fi 5. So that's the situation, yes."
The TP-Link Archer BE900 router and Deco 95 and Deco 85 mesh systems are each set to go up for presale on Dec. 31, and expected to ship out during the first quarter of 2023. Additional models are expected to follow suit later in the year, including the Archer GE800 gaming router, though TP-Link says that not all models will be made available in all regions. When I get my hands on them, I'll have more to report.