NCTA — The Internet & Television Association

We Can Make Gigabit Wi-Fi a Reality

We Can Make Gigabit Wi-Fi a Reality


Fact of the day: more Internet traffic is carried over Wi-Fi than any other medium – more than wireline and wireless combined – and it’s increasing every year. So it’s fair to say the future of the Internet is the future of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi was born in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band that was once written off as “junk spectrum.” And the unlicensed nature of the band meant that the barriers to entry were low. Anyone with a good idea could launch a new wireless service as long as they played well with others in the band. As a result, the 2.4 GHz band has proven to be an unparalleled hotbed of innovation, producing not only Wi-Fi but Bluetooth and many other technologies. Today, unlicensed services generate some $200 billion in value per year for the U.S. economy.

The problem is that existing Wi-Fi spectrum is becoming increasingly crowded, and even completely exhausted in some urban areas. Meanwhile, consumer demand for more and better Wi-Fi continues to skyrocket. And the next-generation Wi-Fi standards which promise speeds of up to a Gigabit will put even greater strains on spectrum resources.

A recent report from the Open Technology Institute states, “with more and more users demanding increasingly high-bandwidth and real-time applications, the 20 megahertz wide channels that characterize today’s Wi-Fi do not offer enough capacity.” That’s a big problem. So what can we do? We need to open up larger contiguous tracks of spectrum in the 5 GHz band for unlicensed sharing – in particular the 5.9 GHz range. In other words, if we want fast, accessible gigabit Wi-Fi, we need to create a wider pipe.

So what’s the holdup?

Right now, the 5.9 GHz spectrum needed to relieve congestion and deploy next-generation Wi-Fi is primarily reserved for Intelligent Transportation Systems, or ITS. This is a series of technologies that the auto industry is developing for future vehicle-to-vehicle communications. We do not want to displace ITS but simply to share the spectrum. Happily, the ability to politely share spectrum is built into Wi-Fi’s DNA. It was designed to share spectrum and through built-in technologies, does it well.

We’re working hard alongside technology companies, broadband providers, and consumers to encourage the FCC to work quickly, and to enter a collaborative testing process aimed at finding a win-win solution. We can all enjoy a future of fast, innovative, widely accessible broadband access. Meaningful sharing of the 5.9 GHz band would be a crucial step forward.