Wi-Fi gets huge contiguous spectrum assignment from the FCC

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai    via Flickr © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai via Flickr © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • The last two weeks has seen the commission busy fiddling with rules and redirecting resources to general applause 
  • But the 1.2 GHZ spectrum assignment is being praised to the hilt 
  • Following the ending of net neutrality has Pai now redeemed himself in the eyes of many?

FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, had already enjoyed a week of positive headlines by stepping in to adjust regulations and direct resources to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Under his leadership many stops have been pulled. 

Getting stuff done

Such as the decision to change the technical rules governing distributed transmission systems for next gen TV; some carriers have been granted flexibility to focus Universal Service Funds on hard-hit areas; and there are moves to reform interstate access charges

There’s been a $200 million Covid-19 telehealth program launched; the commission has issued a temporary waiver of its access arbitrage rules to protect Zoom Video and Cisco’s WebEx; and Wireless ISPs along with Verizon & AT&T, US Cellular and T-Mobile have all been granted temporary spectrum access to ensure that the locked-down public could continue to communicate. All this within the last two weeks or so. 

But Pai’s crowning achievement this last week has surely been to see through the allocation of an entire 1200 MHz (1.2 GHz) of spectrum in the 6GHz band to public unlicensed use - at least half of which will go to Wi-Fi - in the teeth of uncharacteristically vociferous opposition from the usually pro-Pai CTIA  (see - How much spectrum is too much? Depends on who’s getting it).

Ideally the CTIA would like to see the upper portion of the 6GHz band allocated by auction to the existing US mobile operators, arguing that there simply isn’t enough mid-range bandwidth available to meet demand. 

Pai has circulated draft rules permitting unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band - essentially opening up the band for Wi-Fi and other public data transmission technologies - and the proposed rules would make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available. The commission says the licensed devices would share the spectrum with incumbent licensed services under rules crafted to protect them. The draft rules will be voted on by the Commission at the FCC’s Open Meeting on April 23rd, but by all accounts they will sail through.

Pai says the number of Americans connecting to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has “exploded” and will continue to do so. “Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to WiFi by 2022,” he says. “To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.”

Pai points out that If adopted, the draft Report and Order would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band. 

Enthusiasm to lift the pandemic gloom

The move is naturally getting an ecstatic welcome from the Wi-Fi industry which sees it as a major spur to further development.  

Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), says the opening of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6 technology will be a game changer for global Wi-Fi. This new band would provide more capacity than all the other Wi-Fi bands put together. 

He says the proposed release of the 6 GHz band would enable multi-gigabit speeds and low-latency connections to deliver advanced mobile services to consumers, business and industry.   

Another well-known Wi-Fi identity, Boingo’s chief technology officer, Derek Peterson, says the significant swathe of contiguous spectrum involved in the order will make the most of Wi-Fi. He says that for Boingo it means maximising the benefits of neutral host Wi-Fi 6 deployments at major airports, stadiums, military bases and the like.



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