Wireless industry warns of urgent need for more Wi-Fi spectrum

As demand for broadband connectivity surges worldwide, bodies representing wireless companies highlight what they say is a pressing need for access to the 6GHz frequency band

With more than half of all connections to the internet starting or ending with Wi-Fi access and demand for broadband connectivity surging worldwide, Wi-Fi urgently needs access to the 6GHz frequency band, says a report from the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) and Policy Impact Partners (PIP).

Offering wider channels up to 160MHz, and capacity up to 9.6Gbps (compared with 3.5Gbps in Wi-Fi 5), Wi-Fi 6 is designed to enable nearly three times faster gigabit data rates and the standard is now proven to deliver better reliability, lower latency, more deterministic behaviour and better network efficiency, especially in environments with many connected devices, says the report. The use cases for Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, include service for high-density wireless locations, internet of things (IoT) support and indoor wireless coverage.

The momentum for Wi-Fi 6 is building. Only days ago, the worldwide industry body dedicated to improving Wi-Fi services and standards, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), announced the conclusion of five trial deployments of Wi-Fi 6 across diverse markets.

Focused on Europe, the Middle East and Africa (ITU Region 1), the DSA/PIP paper calls on the European Union (EU) to ensure that the EC decision on licence-exempt access to the lower 6GHz band is adopted without delay, and then implemented in national regulations early in 2021.

This, say the authors, will be crucial for Europe to alleviate congestion in existing licence-exempt spectrum and to support the highly capable Wi-Fi 6E devices that will be rolled out this year and next.

A new generation of Wi-Fi technology, Wi-Fi 6E, received a massive boost in April 2020 when US telecoms and broadcast regulator the Federal Communications Commission circulated draft rules permitting unlicensed Wi-Fi 6 services devices to operate in the 6GHz band

To enable the world to fully benefit from Wi-Fi 6E, the DSA and PIP are calling on governments to make the 6GHz band available for use by licence-exempt technologies. The paper says Wi-Fi 6 enables an efficient use of the spectrum in terms of access, ensuring that existing incumbent services can continue to thrive in the band while meeting the growing demand for wireless capacity with more throughput, connected devices and coverage.

Read more about Wi-Fi 6

The paper also calls on administrations in the Middle East and Africa to open the lower 6GHz band (5925-6425MHz) and consider licence-exempt access to the upper 6GHz band (6425-7125MHz).

The partners also say in their paper that if countries across the world were to enable licence-exempt access to the entire 1200MHz of the 6GHz band, the global digital ecosystem would benefit from major economies of scale. This would reduce costs for end-users and allow people to benefit from innovative services that harness the capabilities of Wi-Fi 6E. Countries that have opted for a rapid deployment of 5G, such as South Korea and the US, recognise the need to allow licence-exempt access to the entire 6GHz band, says the report.

“Used for every aspect in our lives, such as remote education, work and commerce, Wi-Fi needs greater spectrum access in the 6GHz band to effectively support the modern digital ecosystem,” said Dynamic Spectrum Alliance president Martha Suárez. “With access to wide 160MHz channels in the 6GHz band, Wi-Fi 6E will be able to deliver very robust connectivity that can enable truly immersive and compelling multimedia experiences.”

Policy Impact Partners founder and director Herman Schepers added: “The Covid-19 pandemic is highlighting the critical need to bring reliable broadband to many more people and communities. That won’t happen unless both licensed and licence-exempt wireless technologies have access to the spectrum they need. People should have the flexibility to use the technology best suited to their budget, their use case and other local factors, whether that be 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi or another unlicensed technology.”

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