The Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday they are making 1,200 megahertz of 6 GHz wireless spectrum band available for unlicensed use. This is expected to be 2.5 times faster than the current standard and will increase the spectrum available for Wi-Fi by a factor of five freeing up a lot more airwaves. “These new rules will usher in Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, and play a major role in the growth of the Internet of Things,” said an FCC press release.
The 6 GHz band (5.925-7.125) was previously used by microwave services supporting utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul, and will now be opened up to unlicensed devices. The FCC adopted rules on April 23 to protect the licensed services already using the band while allowing the new unlicensed entrants. This includes an automated frequency coordination system to prevent access points in locations that could cause interference with licensed services. Indoor low-power operations are authorized on the full 1,200 megahertz and standard-power devices are authorized on 850 megahertz of the 6 GHz band.
“Unlicensed devices that employ Wi-Fi and other unlicensed standards have become indispensable for providing low-cost wireless connectivity in countless products used by American consumers. In making broad swaths of the 6 GHz spectrum available for unlicensed use, the FCC envisions new innovative technologies and services that will deliver new devices and applications to American consumers and advance the Commission’s goal of making broadband connectivity available to all Americans, especially those in rural and underserved areas,” the press release states.
According to The Verge, this is the largest spectrum addition since the FCC made Wi-Fi spectrum generally available in 1989. The article says devices are expected to support 6 GHz Wi-Fi by the end of 2020 and will significantly help with spectrum congestion and speed up some Wi-Fi connections.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement said this was a “bold step” meant to increase the unlimited spectrum supply and predicted it will play a major role in the “growth of the Internet of Things” as appliances, wearables, televisions, and other consumer electronics are integrated into wireless networks. He connected this decision to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it could help make sheltering in place easier especially for families with an added need for the internet with parents working from home and children doing distance learning. “It allows Americans with medical issues to have virtual doctor’s appointments while those they live with stream Tiger King on Netflix,” Pai said.
He also said this step would be vital without COVID-19, especially in the coming years as Wi-Fi becomes more economically valuable. He cited that Wi-Fi helps keep cellular networks from being overwhelmed. “In a very real sense, Wi-Fi is the fabric that binds together all our digital devices.”