Good news for Wi-Fi as regulators free up more spectrum
Written by: James Atkinson | Published:

Ofcom is the latest national communications regulator to propose opening up more spectrum for Wi-Fi – a move that will be welcomed by the industry.

The Wi-Fi industry has been lobbying national regulators for years to provide more spectrum as the two main existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands are filling up.

So the news that Ofcom in the UK is proposing to make 500MHz of the 6GHz spectrum available for Wi-Fi, along with 18.2GHz of Extremely High Frequency (EHF) spectrum in the 100-200GHz band, will be warmly welcomed.

Ofcom’s research reveals that demand for data is indeed growing, with UK households now using 315GB of broadband data a month – the equivalent of watching up to four hours of HD video content a day. It also recognised that new services are being developed that require reliable connections on the move.

The 500MHz of additional licence-exempt spectrum in the 6GHz frequency band will help people get a more reliable connection across all devices using Wi-Fi in the home and in the office, according to Ofcom.

The regulator added that the new frequencies will support new innovative uses for very low-power outdoor use, such as virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR).

Ofcom is also proposing to open up access to 18.2GHz of spectrum in the EHF 100-200GHz band range. It argues that spectrum above 100GHz will open up new opportunities to develop innovative wireless services across a range of industries in the future.

These could include: very high-speed data links – necessary for 3D holograms and future internet of things (IoT) applications; high-precision industrial use – micro positioning robots and testing manufactured products; and health screening applications – for the earlier detection of conditions such as skin cancer.

“6GHz will help address the growing need for Wi-Fi spectrum capacity to ensure Wi-Fi users continue to receive the same great user experience with their devices,” said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO at the Wi-Fi Alliance in a statement released on 3 January 2020.

Anticipating the release of 6GHz spectrum, the Wi-Fi Alliance has ensured that the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard is 6GHz-ready. The 6GHz band (5.9257.125GHz) has the advantage of sitting adjacent to the 5GHz band already occupied by unlicensed Wi-Fi users and devices.

Wi-Fi 6 will deliver almost four times the capacity of WiFi 5 (802.11ac). It supports new advances such as orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), target wake time, multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO), and 1024 QAM.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is introducing new terminology to distinguish forthcoming Wi-Fi 6 devices that are capable of 6GHz operation. Wi-Fi 6E brings a common industry name for Wi-Fi users to identify devices that will offer the features and capabilities of Wi-Fi 6 – including higher performance, lower latency, and faster data rates – extended into the 6GHz band.

The Alliance said that if and when 6GHz is made available by regulators, analysts predict the first Wi-Fi devices to use the band will include Wi-Fi 6E consumer access points and smartphones, followed by enterprise-grade access points.

Industrial environments are also expected to see strong adoption from Wi-Fi 6E to deliver applications including machine analytics, remote maintenance and virtual employee training. Wi-Fi 6E will also utilise 6GHz to deliver augmented reality and virtual reality.

Phil Solis, research director at IDC, commented: “If spectrum is made available early this year, we expect momentum of products that support operation in 6GHz to ramp very quickly. The capacity of 6GHz is enormous and will be efficiently used by Wi-Fi 6 and newer versions of Wi-Fi. The US is taking a big lead on the 6GHz market, with Europe and APAC regions also exploring access to this band,” said Solis.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US equivalent of Ofcom, is looking to make available a massive 1200MHz block of 6GHz for IoT sensors and Wi-Fi.

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