A Time to Celebrate Wi-Fi Progress While Building Towards the Future


This Sunday marks World Wi-Fi Day, and there is a lot to celebrate about the technology that has transformed the way people connect and made invaluable contributions to the global economy. Wi-Fi has proven especially critical over the last year, as we all adapted to working and learning from home and keeping in touch by phone and video.  According to Plume, the number of Wi-Fi devices connected to home Wi-Fi networks increased dramatically beginning in mid-March 2020, in some markets over 100% over pre-pandemic levels, which enabled business, education, healthcare, and social interactions to move online. But even prior to the pandemic, Wi-Fi was already predicted to carry over 56% of U.S. internet traffic by 2022.  

With all this important economic and social activity taking place over Wi-Fi, it’s no surprise that the technology is a key value generator for the economy.  A study for Wi-Fi Alliance predicts that the global economic value of Wi-Fi will increase from $3.3. trillion this year to $4.9 trillion by 2025. These figures all point to the growing importance of Wi-Fi in daily life, which is why the achievements of the past year in Wi-Fi policy in the United States and worldwide have been truly critical for consumers and for economic growth. In honor of World Wi-Fi Day, we reflect on the milestones achieved over the past year, and urge further steps to ensure that Wi-Fi continues to thrive. 

Last year, the FCC's unanimous, bipartisan decision to open 1,200 megahertz in the 6 GHz band to shared unlicensed spectrum use marked a watershed moment for Wi-Fi. Before that decision, it had been well over a decade since new unlicensed spectrum suitable for Wi-Fi had been made available. American consumers desperately needed that new injection of spectrum to support all the activities that they now rely on Wi-Fi to deliver, from streaming, gaming, and browsing to video calls and telemedicine. The wider Wi-Fi channels enabled by 6 GHz can now keep pace with next-generation Wi-Fi 6E equipment, offer consumers multi-gigabit speeds and lower latency, and allow more users on the network while reducing congestion. 

Then this past fall, the FCC further improved the spectrum outlook for Wi-Fi when it opened up the lower portion of the underutilized 5.9 GHz band for indoor unlicensed use. This small slice of spectrum, when joined with an adjacent Wi-Fi band, creates a wide-bandwidth, next-generation Wi-Fi channel (160 MHz). This new channel can be brought online in existing Wi-Fi equipment, delivering better Wi-Fi to American consumers in their homes, workplaces, and schools when they need it most. 

And the U.S. isn't the only country that is benefitting from the FCC's decisions. Regulators in Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Peru, South Korea, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and the U.K. are following the FCC's lead in delivering new unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum to their citizens. By supporting a balanced spectrum policy that recognizes the value of unlicensed for innovation and competition in the marketplace, countries around the world are helping to drive immense economic value and unlock better connectivity for consumers while driving down the costs of consumer devices. The FCC's 6 GHz decision is just the latest example of its leadership in unlicensed spectrum policy, which is setting the global stage for faster, better, and more affordable broadband.

While there is much to celebrate from the historical achievements of the past year, the road forward must include even more opportunities for Wi-Fi growth. As technologies continue to advance and the world becomes more interconnected than ever before, Wi-Fi usage demands will only increase. This means that spectrum policy decisions must be forward-looking and consider not just what Wi-Fi might look like in five years, but what it will take for service providers to continue to deliver outstanding Wi-Fi and the next unlicensed innovations 10-15 years into the future. Continuing to grow the unlicensed spectrum pipeline and to find the next bands to support Wi-Fi connectivity is the only way that the U.S., and the rest of the world, will be able to stay ahead of consumer demand and remain on the cutting edge of innovation. The groundwork that policymakers lay now with balanced spectrum priorities will prepare us for a future full of unlicensed opportunities for providers, consumers, and innovators.