Wi-Fi 7’s Muted Showing at CES 2023 Belies the Protocol’s Imminent Arrival

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By Andrew Spivey | 1Q 2023 | IN-6810

Those eagerly awaiting new Wi-Fi 7 product announcements would have been disappointed with CES 2023. Why did Wi-Fi 7 fall short of expectations at this year’s show?

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Wi-Fi 7 Notably Inconspicuous at CES 2023


There was a plethora of Wi-Fi-related announcements at CES 2023, spanning new devices and equipment, services like Wi-Fi sensing and connection managers, to news that Delta Airlines would make Wi-Fi free for frequent flyers on 80% of its fleet within the month. As expected, CES 2023 saw the steady stream of new Wi-Fi 6E device releases continue—with the protocol cropping up in everything from new phones (Motorola ThinkPhone) to Chromebooks (HP Dragonfly Pro). But with 2023 being the year that Wi-Fi 7 devices begin to hit the market, expectations were obviously high for product announcements supporting this new standard. Yet, counter to these expectations, Wi-Fi 7 played a relatively low-key role at the show. Should this be considered a bad omen for the upcoming new Wi-Fi protocol?

Wi-Fi Roundup from CES 2023


As always, CES 2023 saw a range of new Wi-Fi Access Points (APs) unveiled to the public for the first time, with the lion’s share of the newly revealed Wi-Fi 7 APs being mid-range in spec and targeted at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) market. For example, Actiontec announced its first Wi-Fi 7 gateway, the tri-band WF-825, which is currently being trialed by ISPs and is targeting second half general availability. CommScope/ARRIS also revealed the SURFboard G54, a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem and quad-band Wi-Fi 7 router, which according to ARRIS will also be available for ISPs by the middle of the year. Additionally, Zyxel confirmed that its Wi-Fi 7 CPE is in development, although despite providing a live demonstration of the technology, Zyxel was unable to share any concrete details about the equipment itself.

That is not to say that there were no flagship high-end routers on display. Among these was the router that hands-down deserves the award for the most eccentric router of the show, Micro-Star International’s (MSI) Wi-Fi 7 Radix BE22000 Turbo. This high-spec gaming router has taken a page out of TP-Link’s book and introduced motorized antennas that automatically reorientate toward a specific device for optimal connectivity. The router also differentiates itself with MSI’s AI QoS, which allows users to cycle through preset QoS modes (e.g., gaming, streaming, productivity, etc.) via a QoS control interface, or more conveniently, with a simple press of the company logo on the router itself. MSI, a Taiwanese developer of computer hardware and components, only introduced its first Wi-Fi routers at last year’s CES 2022, but with Radix BE22000, it is already signaling its intention to compete directly with gaming router champions NETGEAR (producers of the Nighthawk Pro Gaming series), TP-Link (which first introduced motorized antennas at CES 2022 with the Wi-Fi 6E AXE200 Omni), and ASUS (and its Republic of Gamers sub-brand). The latter of these companies also introduced two Wi-Fi 7 gaming routers at the show, the quad-band ROG Rapture GT-BE98 and the tri-band ROG Rapture GT-BE96U, which can deliver an aggregated 25 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) and 19 Gbps, respectively. Avid gamers hoping to adopt Wi-Fi 7 will be able to purchase ASUS’ Wi-Fi 7 duo later this year, although those seeking motorized antennas will have to wait until 2024 for MSI’s offering.

Focusing now on Wi-Fi chipsets, while there were few new Wi-Fi chipset reveals (save for news of Morse Micro’s partnership with AzureWave on the world’s smallest Wi-Fi HaLow module), there was plenty of information on industry partnerships and route-to-market strategies for existing solutions. Wi-Fi chipset vendor for devices and infrastructure MediaTek used the show to highlight many of the new partners and client Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) it has secured for its Wi-Fi 7 chipsets first announced back in May 2022, the Filogic 380 and Filogic 880. These included Lenovo, which confirmed that it will use MediaTek’s Wi-Fi 7 solutions in its upcoming Legion devices, Hisense, which plans to incorporate them into TVs, and AMD, which revealed an unspecified future project that will combine MediaTek’s Wi-Fi modules with the company’s Ryzen processors. Other MediaTek partners highlighted at CES 2023 included TP-Link, Buffalo, ASUS, and SK Telecom. MediaTek also announced just prior to CES 2023 that, in collaboration with Federated Wireless, it had successfully conducted Automated Frequency Control (AFC) trials on its Filogic Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 chipsets.

Intel, a leading Wi-Fi chipset supplier for PCs, used the show as a platform to provide further details about two of its previously announced Wi-Fi-based technology solutions. First, its chipset-based Wi-Fi Sensing solution, which can automatically wake up laptops by tracking variations in Wi-Fi waves to detect human presence, will now be available in select Intel Evo and vPro laptops. Second, it announced that its Double Connect Technology (DCT) will be compatible with the Meta Quest Virtual Reality (VR) headset. This will allow two simultaneous Wi-Fi connections from the same PC to link with the VR headset directly, avoiding the lag-inducing hop to and from the router, delivering 20% latency reductions. Alongside these, Intel also introduced its Advanced Connection Manager (ACM) for its EVO PCs, which will ensure optimal connectivity by switching between or aggregating different connection sources (Wi-Fi, 5G, Ethernet) based on the need.

CES 2023 Was a Microcosm of Wi-Fi Industry Shifts


While the scale of CES 2023 was almost on par with pre-pandemic shows of past, the announcements made this year, at least for Wi-Fi, were noticeably fewer in number and lesser in significance compared to previous CESs. This is indicative of several new trends that the industry is undergoing. First, vendors likely felt that if they were to delay their product reveals until CES 2023, then there would not only be the potential for competitors to launch a competing product first and steal the early-mover advantage from them, but also that their flagship product may end up being overshadowed by the countless other unveilings at the show, and thus would fail to make the intended impact. Therefore, vendors with significant brand recognition have instead gravitated toward hosting their own product reveal events, which give them greater control over the timing and message, and the potential to control the industry news cycle for that day or week, as opposed to being mentioned alongside myriad other CES product announcements. The accelerated arrival of Wi-Fi 7 and competition to prove technological leadership has also intensified the pressure on vendors to make their product reveals early and with a splash. For example, TP-Link, the largest Wi-Fi equipment vendor by shipment volume, had little to share at CES 2023, likely a reflection of a decision the company made to announce its entire Wi-Fi 7 pipeline simultaneously this past November (nine APs across all of its product lines) in order to make the biggest impact. Moreover, the several year hiatus of large events has demonstrated that online-only events can provide as much coverage as in-person events, so vendors have gradually become accustomed to this format. This was also the case for TP-Link, as it announced its entire extensive Wi-Fi 7 portfolio at an event it hosted itself.

It was also observed that many vendors chose not to unveil significant new products at CES 2023, but rather to highlight the strength of their industry partnerships and route-to-market strategies of their solutions. This, in part, is a reflection of the new economic climate. Whereas in the past, fanciful concept projects fueled by easy money may have been well received at CES, in this era of high-interest rates, economic volatility, and shaky consumer confidence, companies were under pressure to show the economic viability of their products. Consider the case of MediaTek, which chose to emphasize the breadth of its partnership ecosystem for the Filogic Wi-Fi 7 chipsets, a move intended as a signal that its solutions are not only technologically advanced, but that there is high demand for them in the market and that it has solid go-to-market strategies. Similarly, Intel focused on the route-to-market for several of its pre-announced technologies, including that its proximity sensing feature will be available in select Intel EVO and vPRO laptops, and that its DCT will be compatible with the Meta Quest VR headset.

A final key takeaway is that the nature of Wi-Fi 7 announcements at CES 2023 can be viewed as further evidence that the standard’s arrival is now imminent. While far-off attention-grabbing unveilings were present (e.g., the Radix BE22000), the majority of the revealed Wi-Fi 7 APs are expected to begin shipping in around 6 months’ time and have clear end markets (including the WF-825 and SURFboard G54). Again, chipset vendors focused not on newly announced chipsets that wouldn’t make their way into end products for some time, but on their extensive ecosystem partnerships and products that consumers can get their hands on before the year ends. Furthermore, Federated Wireless and MediaTek’s partnership on AFC operation for the Filogic Wi-Fi 7 chipset is another solid signal of the growing maturity of the AFC systems, reassuring us that we can expect 6 Gigahertz (GHz) Standard Power transmission for Wi-Fi 7, a powerful feature of the new protocol, to be operational within the near future. While the Wi-Fi 7 announcements at CES 2023 may not have been revolutionary, they were, for the most part, for products that will be generally available within the next 12 months—as good a sign as any that the new protocol is now ready for the market.