Thanks to unlicensed spectrum, Wi-Fi has become the glue that binds our digital lifestyles together. It has transformed connectivity in America in just about 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. And our appetite for more connectivity is only growing as the number of internet-enabled devices is expected to exceed 500 billion in 2030, according to Cisco.
But the traffic lanes that allow Wi-Fi to travel have become much more congested and could soon be more clogged than the Washington beltway during rush hour. Which is why it's critical that policymakers pursue a balanced spectrum policy that makes more spectrum available for both licensed and unlicensed uses.
Today is a big step in that direction with FCC Chairman Pai's announcement that the Commission intends to vote on an item in December that will make available part of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use, specifically Wi-Fi.
Why is this action important?
(1) Existing Wi-Fi spectrum is over-crowded and can't support the coming surge in Wi-Fi demand.
The FCC hasn't made available a new spectrum band suitable for Wi-Fi since before the iPhone was introduced. The nation's first Wi-Fi band, 2.4 GHz, is so overburdened that experts say it is no longer suitable for enterprise applications. And even unlicensed spectrum available at 5 GHz won't be enough to meet forecasted demand, much less support new technologies. Dedicating part of the 5.9 GHz band for Wi-Fi is a great first step in supporting Wi-Fi growth and innovation.
(2) Next-gen Wi-Fi requires wide, contiguous channels and 5.9 GHz would bring the first one online.
The next generation of Wi-Fi technology, Wi-Fi 6, will be deploying soon. This technology works best when it uses very wide 160 MHz channels, but today the only channel suitable for widespread Wi-Fi deployment is broken up into two pieces. Chairman Pai's proposal will fix this by marrying the 5.8 GHz band (the most widely used Wi-Fi band in the world) with the lower part of 5.9 GHz. This solution will enable providers to deliver the fastest next-generation speeds to homes, businesses, industrial facilities, hospitals, ports, railyards, and airports across the country.
(3) By 2022, 71% of 5G mobile traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi.
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.
Chairman Pai's proposal to designate the bottom of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use has arrived just in time. The future of Wi-Fi is at stake and this proceeding is the right move to ensure that American consumers can benefit from gigabit Wi-Fi.