Nearly two decades ago when Wi-Fi was a nascent technology, a limited amount of mid-band spectrum (2.4 to 2.483 GHz) was made available for unlicensed use. Subsequently, as the number of devices increased the 5 GHz band was also made available to Wi-Fi. Now, more than eight billion Wi-Fi devices are in use around the world, and that number is expected to reach nearly 12 billion by 2020. Users have come to rely on Wi-Fi as the primary means for internet access, in part because it is often their most affordable option and in part because Wi-Fi offers performance that is well suited for current and emerging applications.
The increasing number of Wi-Fi devices combined with growing demand for Wi-Fi connectivity are projected to exceed the existing available Wi-Fi spectrum capacity in the near future. Recognizing this, the Wi-Fi Alliance commissioned the Wi-Fi Spectrum Needs Study to assess whether available spectrum resources will be sufficient to support Wi-Fi connectivity in the future. The study indicates that by 2020, Wi-Fi networks around the world will need access to significantly more mid-band spectrum that is currently available in the 5 GHz range to satisfy expected growth in Wi-Fi data traffic.
The Findings of the study include:
- The ever-growing number and diversity of Wi-Fi devices along with increased connection speeds and data traffic volumes will exceed the capacity of spectrum currently available in the 5 GHz band by 2020;
- Between 500 MHz and 1 GHz of additional spectrum in various world regions may be needed to support expected growth in Wi-Fi by 2020;
- If demand for Wi-Fi exceeds expected growth, then between 1.3 GHz and 1.8 GHz more spectrum may be required by 2025; and
- Wi-Fi spectrum needs to be sufficiently contiguous to support 160 MHz wide channels, which are required to support a growing number of bandwidth-intensive applications and to allow maximum Wi-Fi benefits to be attained.
Keeping the findings in mind, unlicensed access to the 5.925 to 7.125 GHz band – referred to as the 6 GHz band – is being evaluated. This spectrum is uniquely suitable for deployment of the next generation of Wi-Fi because it offers sufficient bandwidth to alleviate data traffic congestion and provides for commonality of equipment with existing Wi-Fi networks already utilizing adjacent frequency band.
But the big question is - What will be the impact of the introduction of Wi‑Fi in the 6 GHz band on existing radio operations?
The Wi-Fi Alliance recently welcomed a new report from RKF Engineering Solutions, LLC, that confirms if appropriate interference mitigation techniques will be used, then the introduction of Wi‑Fi in the 6 GHz band will have minimal impact on existing radio operations. This report also provides further technical evidence in support of regulatory action needed to allow Wi-Fi operations in the 6 GHz band. Wi-Fi Alliance also urged regulators to consider this report in their efforts to address the projected Wi-Fi spectrum shortfall.
The Federal Communications Commission is also planning to move forward with a rulemaking on the 6 GHz band, in order to expand the use of the mid-band spectrum for Wi-Fi use. The Wi-Fi Alliance is also looking forward to the Commission’s adoption of Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as the next step in that process.