NCTA — The Internet & Television Association

Future of Wi-Fi

The Future of Wi-Fi

Spectrum & 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.

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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.

Wi-Fi Uses Are Growing

Wi-Fi will be busy in the future, so more spectrum is needed
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Internet of things

Wireless devices now allow us to monitor our health, manage home energy use and get answers to questions on command. These devices make up what we call the Internet of Things – a web of connected objects that are linked via networks that can interact with each other and with us. By increasing the amount of spectrum that Wi-Fi can share, we can continue to expand the Internet of Things and increase the speed and capacity of our connected lifestyle.

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5G Mobile Offload

5G networks promise faster speeds, lower latency, and greater capacity to mobile users. But 5G network operators can’t deliver on that promise without robust Wi-Fi networks to carry the majority of that traffic. Cisco estimates that 71% of 5G mobile traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022, even more offload than we’ve seen from lower speed networks in the past. To accommodate that coming wave of 5G traffic, Wi-Fi networks will require more spectrum resources.

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Smart cities

“More Wi-Fi in cities can make communities more livable by increasing access to services and dramatically improving communication. Using sensors enabled by unlicensed frequencies and Wi-Fi networks, community leaders can improve building management, enable more efficient traffic flow, and develop new ways to provide basic services like water or waste management.” - Wi-Fi Forward

More Spectrum is Needed for Wi-Fi

Support Innovation by Dedicating A Portion of the 5.9 GHz Band for Wi-Fi

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.

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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.

500B
The number of internet-enabled devices expected by 2030.
50%
More than half of U.S. internet traffic transits a Wi-Fi network.
$500B
Wi-Fi contributes $500 billion annually to the economy.