Wireless stakeholders cheer ‘historic’ FCC Wi-Fi 6GHz spectrum allocation decision

Consumer electronics trade and communications spectrum bodies, wireless broadband trade associations, and portable device manufacturers are all among those applauding US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for voting to make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed Wi-Fi use in the 6 GHz band.

On 6 April 2020, FCC chairman Ajit Pai proposed draft rules would make 1,200MHz of wireless spectrum in the 5.925 – 7.125 GHz band US available for use for unlicensed devices, which would share the spectrum with incumbent licensed services under rules crafted to protect the latter and to support both wireless operation types.

US businesses had lobbied the FCC for such regulation, trying to persuade the commission that such a large unlicensed allocation with seven 160MHz channels would have a dramatic impact. The FCC has now confirmed it is in favour of the proposal.

The FCC’s decision has been described as a milestone and a watershed moment that for innovation that will no less than supercharge connectivity in basically all application areas such as remote education, telemedicine, work and commerce, gaming, and social media.

This is now ever more important given the lockdown conditions placed on populations around the world and the almost exponential increase in the use of home Wi-Fi networks for business reasons. The decision also includes a further regulatory proposal for very low power portable devices, alongside other important steps that will complete the FCC Chairman’s vision in rapidly enabling 5G services for all Americans.

The move creates a new standard for Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E, referring to extended capabilities in the 6GHz band and which will go some way to addressing regular Wi-Fi’s spectrum shortage by bringing nearly six times the total capacity in both 2.4 and 5 GHz, seven contiguous 160 MHz channels, and less interference from legacy Wi-Fi devices. This is said to translate to multigigabit Wi-Fi speeds and more devices performing optimally on a Wi-Fi network at once.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the worldwide network of companies whose products and services use the networking standard, described the FCC’s decision as a courageous step and a monumental ruling securing Wi-Fi innovation for decades to come, paving the way for faster, higher-capacity, and lower latency Wi-Fi devices and networks.

Opening the floodgates

Commenting on the announcement, the Wi-Fi Alliance said in a statement: “By making 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in 6 GHz available for unlicensed innovation, the Commission opened the floodgates of Wi-Fi benefits for American consumers, enterprises and the economy. Most importantly, the FCC decision ensures that Wi-Fi users can stay connected to colleagues and family, and to healthcare, business, education, and other critical services.

“Wi-Fi Alliance enthusiastically supports this action and is grateful to the Commission’s leadership and FCC staff for their dedicated effort and commitment over the course of the 6 GHz proceeding.”

The alliance has now announced that it is expanding its Wi-Fi Certified branding to include Wi-Fi 6E, ensuring interoperability in devices capable of 6 GHz operation. It noted that analysts believe that more than 316 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will enter the market in 2021, with the first access points supporting the new Wi-Fi 6E standard to be available as soon as Q4 2020.

A number of these devices will inevitably be made by members of the US Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The association’s president and CEO Gary Shapiro said that the vote lays the groundwork for tech companies to offer next-generation connectivity at a time when it is most needed.

“Our world has changed dramatically in the last few months-think of how different life would be if we didn’t have access to Wi-Fi technology,” he said. “Opening the 6 GHz band means more spectrum available to power the Wi-Fi devices we rely on for working, socialising and even getting medical treatment remotely.

“We applaud FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the commissioners for their leadership in fostering an environment for innovation. Their proactive approach to spectrum access will strengthen our members’ abilities to deliver faster, better and smarter devices that propel our society forward and make our lives better.”

The Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, the global organisation advocating for laws and regulations for more efficient and effective spectrum utilisation, applauded the FCC’s decision, noting that increasing bandwidth demands for rising internet of things (IoT) applications, new use cases as well as the critical demand for vital industries such as healthcare, education and manufacturing will now finally be met, increasing the potential for the industry to meet user demands.

“The FCC’s decision to enable multiple categories of unlicensed 6 GHz equipment – initially low power indoor access points (APs), standard power APs, and several client device types – will benefit consumers through innovative services and provide manufacturers the flexibility to design their products in the most cost effective manner,” said Dynamic Spectrum Alliance president Martha Suarez.

“The impact of accessing spectrum in the 6 GHz band will enable more critical industries to access the quality of connectivity they need. In addition, it will help network service providers to deliver the quality of service that end-users expect in real-time and extend connectivity to rural areas.”

The association also observed that rural Americans and their wireless internet providers will also benefit from access to the 6 GHz band as the authorisation of standard power outdoor operations through an Automated Frequency Coordination mechanism in the bands will allow wireless broadband providers to greatly improve Internet access in rural areas.