FCC to Vote on Allocating 6 GHz Spectrum For Faster Wi-Fi

On April 23, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on allowing Wi-Fi devices to access 6 GHz spectrum to ramp up its speed, an effort largely opposed by broadcasters and utilities. With the coronavirus pandemic, more Americans are at home using devices that have slowed down Wi-Fi. If the FCC does approve the plan, consumers could enjoy much faster Wi-Fi as soon as late 2020. FCC chair Ajit Pai noted that an approval “would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC move would “make 1200 megahertz of spectrum available for so-called unlicensed use, meaning any device can transmit as long as it meets the FCC’s technical specifications.”

Last year, Big Tech companies warned the FCC that, “without access to the 6 GHz band, Wi-Fi networks would become congested.” In a letter, Apple, Cisco Systems, Facebook, Google, Intel, Qualcomm and others noted that, “multiple studies have demonstrated that the country requires a substantial increase in unlicensed spectrum resources just to keep pace with demand and deliver the important new capabilities of today’s wireless technologies to consumers.”

“Once all the rules are in place, products can move relatively quickly,” said New Street Research analyst Blair Levin. Increased 6 GHz Wi-Fi would also positively impact “manufacturers of chips, semiconductors, and other equipment.” Opposing the move are “broadcasters, utilities and other companies that currently use the airwaves in question.”

Verizon Communications and T-Mobile “urged the FCC to earmark some of the 6 GHz band for licensed use, as opposed to making the entire swath of spectrum available for use without a license,” which will allow them to “claim it for their own 5G networks.” The FCC responded that, “it is making other spectrum available that carriers can use for cellular 5G networks.”

Broadcasters and utility companies have also stated that, “allowing Wi-Fi devices on those airwaves could interfere with current uses, such as beaming news broadcasts from a truck or monitoring electric grids and pipelines.” The FCC stated that “it is addressing those concerns through technical requirements designed to prevent interference between devices … [and that] rules for using the airwaves will be different for devices operating indoors and outdoors.”

The FCC, adds WSJ, “envisions faster Wi-Fi devices combining with 5G networks to upgrade Internet speeds across the U.S. in the coming years.”