NCTA — The Internet & Television Association

Spectrum & Wi-Fi

The Future of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi has transformed connectivity in America in every way possible. Wi-Fi connects us to the internet so we can conduct business, catch up with family and friends, do homework, obtain a medical diagnosis, stream our favorite shows, and much more. It’s also a critical tool for factories, hospitals, retail stores, and transportation hubs across the country. We’re using the airwaves that allow Wi-Fi to travel more than ever before. As our appetite for more connectivity grows, our country requires more of the critical input to make Wi-Fi run: unlicensed spectrum.

woman doing an online yoga class

What is unlicensed spectrum?

Unlicensed bands are portions of the radio frequency spectrum where anyone is allowed to transmit communications, up to certain power limits, without needing a costly license from the FCC. There are still rules to using this spectrum, as the FCC still mandates technical rules and device certifications. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are examples of technologies that use unlicensed spectrum.

Next Steps for More Wi-Fi

The 5.9 GHz band remains the best option to put additional spectrum to work for Wi-Fi immediately: 

Embrace the 5.9 GHz Band. The 5.9 GHz band is the best option to put additional spectrum to work for Wi-Fi. This band is adjacent to the most widely used Wi-Fi band, meaning that manufacturers could bring enhanced broadband connectivity and speeds to the market very quickly after unlicensed use is authorized.

Raise the 6 GHz Indoor Power Limit. The FCC’s decision to dedicate the 6 GHz band for shared unlicensed use will significantly enhance the possibilities for next-generation Wi-Fi. However, the power levels the Commission adopted for indoor use are restrictive and could result in less coverage and slower speeds than consumers receive today with their 5 GHz devices. The FCC should authorize higher power indoor unlicensed operations to ensure 6 GHz delivers on the promise of faster whole-home Wi-Fi.

woman talking on phone and using tablet
a man using a tablet to fill an order in a warehouse

The Future Home of Unlicensed Innovation

April 2020 marked a watershed moment for Wi-Fi, when the FCC made the decision to open 1,200 megahertz in the 6 GHz band to shared unlicensed use while protecting existing operations in the band. The 6 GHz band will be the home for exciting new Wi-Fi devices and unlicensed innovations. NCTA members have begun to move forward deploying next generation Wi-Fi equipment by rolling out Wi-Fi 6 routers designed to accommodate next generation speeds in existing Wi-Fi bands.

Generated per year by Wi-Fi & other unlicensed wireless tech
Connected devices per household projected by 2023
U.S. internet traffic carried by Wi-Fi in 2022