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6GHz Wi-Fi spectrum critical to enable Australian technology innovation

Global spectrum organisation calls on Australia to set aside the full 1200MHz of available 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi applications under the country’s communications and media authority licensing framework

The battle for access into the fertile territory of the 6GHz comms spectrum has advanced into Australia, with the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA), a trade body promoting spectrum sharing, imploring the local regulatory authorities to allocate a full 1200MHz of spectrum to Wi-Fi in the frequency range to take advantage of an opportunity it says Australia cannot afford to miss.

In 2021, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) released its Policy Position Paper on spectrum for Australian 5G services. It highlighted the need for spectrum to address the increasing reliance on mobile bands to support connectivity.

In a letter to the minister for communications, urban infrastructure, cities and the arts of Australia, the DSA urged Australia to use the 6GHz band to address Wi-Fi demands through an allocation to Wi-Fi applications. It said Australia should set aside the full 1200MHz of available 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi applications under the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) Low Interference Potential Devices (LIPD) class licence. This, said the DSA, will ensure that enough spectrum is made available to enable the next generation of Wi-Fi gigabit technologies, Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7, to thrive alongside 5G and fibre.

The battle to gain spectrum is global and began in earnest in the US in April 2020 when consumer electronics trade and communications spectrum bodies, wireless broadband trade associations and portable device manufacturers applauded US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for voting to make 1200MHz of spectrum available for unlicensed Wi-Fi use in the 6GHz band, effectively ushering in the age of Wi-Fi 6E.

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 new standard could potentially bring nearly six times the total capacity in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, seven contiguous 160MHz 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 DSA first made the case for access to the 6GHz frequency band to develop Wi-Fi 6/6E applications in November 2020, noting that offering wider channels up to 160MHz, and data rates and capacity up to 9.6Gbps (compared with 3.5Gbps in Wi-Fi 5), would result in better reliability, lower latency, more deterministic behaviour and better network efficiency, especially in environments with many connected devices. It added that the use cases for Wi-Fi 6also known as 802.11ax, include service for high-density wireless locations, internet of things (IoT) support and indoor wireless coverage.

Yet the issue is hugely contentious in the world of communications. In May 2021, the mobile industry’s trade association, the GSMA, warned that the global future of 5G was at risk if governments failed to align on licensing 6GHz spectrum. The GSMA said the full speed and capabilities of 5G depended on the 6GHz mid-band spectrum and, more particularly, because governments were already diverging in what they were planning to do in this range.

The GSMA added that the 6GHz band was not only for mobile network operators to provide enhanced affordable connectivity for greater social inclusion, but also to deliver the data speeds and capacity needed for smart cities, transport and factories. The trade body cited research estimating that 5G networks need 2GHz of mid-band spectrum over the next decade to deliver on the technology’s full potential.

The ACMA has already assigned 225MHz of spectrum for use in and around 3.6GHz and is currently investigating more both in this range and in the 10GHz band. While there is a need for denser cellular networks, this increasing demand will also increase traffic on the Wi-Fi networks that are the final link to user devices, warns the DSA.

“Many people have already experienced Wi-Fi congestion in densely populated areas or even in the connected family home. With the growth in traffic projected by AMTA and without more Wi-Fi spectrum, even the recently announced 500MHz of spectrum will not be enough. In a few years, Australians will once again be subject to Wi-Fi congestion,” said Martha Suarez, president of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance.

“There is an opportunity now to dedicate the full 1200MHz of 6GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi and prepare for future demands. Almost every device that connects to a cellular network relies on Wi-Fi in some way to connect devices in the home or workplace. Allocating the 1200MHz of spectrum is an opportunity Australia cannot afford to miss,” she added.

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