U.S. Court Clears FCC’s Path for Seismic Wi-Fi 6E Upgrade

A U.S. Court of Appeals has paved the way for Wi-Fi 6E, the biggest Wi-Fi upgrade in more than two decades, by upholding a 2020 FCC order to make 1,200MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz band available for unlicensed use. Poised to benefit are router manufacturers and those who make devices for home offices and IoT. FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the decision timely in the wake of COVID-19, when “so much of modern life has migrated online.” FCC commissioner Brendan Carr emphasized ancillary benefits, calling the additional spectrum “the oxygen needed to power 5G.”

Carr said the FCC’s plan “increases the amount of mid-band spectrum for Wi-Fi and 5G innovations by a factor of five.” All told, the FCC efforts codified in the order “opened up more than six gigahertz of spectrum for licensed 5G services in addition to thousands of megahertz for unlicensed or Wi-Fi operations,” Carr noted in a statement.

The Verge reports that mobile carriers sometimes use unlicensed spectrum “to augment their licensed spectrum with technology that helps speed up connections,” which “could come into play again.”

While the substance of the FCC’s order was upheld, the opinion, issued December 28 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, remanded back to the FCC for consideration of one issue Rosenworcel described as “very narrow.”

AT&T, the National Association of Broadcasters and others sued to block the order, arguing a mass migration into the 6GHz band will potentially interfere with “tens of thousands of microwave links critical to maintaining network infrastructure,” including signals connecting cell towers to the Internet.

Apple, Broadcom and Cisco filed briefs in favor of the FCC’s order, with Apple writing it “sets the course for the next generation of Wi-Fi networks.” Facebook and Intel also supported the FCC’s move, according to The Verge.

Wi-Fi 6E routers are backward-compatible to the old 2.4GHz and 5GHz as well as working with the new 6GHz band. But even when used on an old frequency, Wi-Fi 6E is said to be more efficient and reliable. Wi-Fi 6E “has enough room for up to seven maximum capacity Wi-Fi streams to broadcast in the same area at once without interfering with each other or using any existing spectrum,” writes The Verge, noting that there’s already work on Wi-Fi 7, with an ETA of 2024.

In theory, Wi-Fi 6 has a comparable top speed to 5GHz Wi-Fi, but The Verge says the extra bandwidth means “instead of getting so much interference from other devices and nearby networks, you’ll have a faster, more consistent connection,” enabling Wi-Fi of about 1–2 Gbps, “similar to what you see now with mmWave 5G.”

What Is Wi-Fi 6E?, PC Magazine, 10/7/21