What the FCC’s 6Ghz Spectrum Decision Means for Wi-Fi

Chris Spencer, CTO, GlobalReach Technology

Over the last 20 years, I’ve witnessed some significant events and technical innovations in the Wi-Fi industry. From the very first networks, which ran on 2.4Ghz (802.11b) to the release of the 5Ghz and the vast number of services that have been deployed using those frequencies.

Today, every industry sector benefits immensely from the connectivity Wi-Fi provides and last year the Wi-Fi Alliance finalised and released the Wi-Fi 6 specification, which was another significant step forward in the way networks and devices will connect, perform and operate.

At the end of April, we saw the FCC make possibly the boldest move in two decades when it unanimously voted in favour of releasing 1,200MHz of new spectrum in the 6GHz band for use across the United States.

This newly issued frequency increases the allocated Wi-Fi combined spectrum by almost five times in the United States. Wi-Fi6e, as it is to be called, will be the combined Wi-Fi 6 technology with the expanded spectrum range of 6Ghz. 

To try and give just some idea of just how big this is, when 2.4GHz was released for unlicensed use we had just 3 x 20Mhz wide none overlapping channels, this new spectrum gives us 59 x 20Mhz new non-overlapping channels. The freedom to utilise this new spectrum in many denominations is now more possible for example 29 x 40Mhz wide channels or 14 x 80Mhz channels. 

In simple terms the wider the channel the more data can go through it per second. We can imagine this newfound high-speed freedom will bring to market many more exciting technological advancements. One example is virtual concerts where, in real-time, you attend a live high-definition audio and visual concert wearing a truly wireless VR headset. During the COVID outbreak, AR has seen an increase in its usage for online learning and experiences, applications of AR and VR have helped us during the isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns. Many don’t realise today that high-end VR headsets are cabled to carry the bandwidth and feedback senses needed to drive the user experience. 

As we move to the next generation of gaming consoles that use cloud-based data constructs we are going to need to move more bandwidth than we ever have before. Augmented reality, another great use case for high-speed bandwidth, 6e takes into that next stage of evolution. 

Europe still has to wait on individual countries and the European Commission to do the same for them as the FCC has done in the USA. Each member state needs to approve the allocation of any frequencies in the 6Ghz band individually, though the release of such a large band by the FCC will surely make them look closely at this. There are several additional challenges in Europe, with some of the 6Ghz already licensed out, so we may see a longer time frame or small pockets of 6Ghz released in Europe. 

The move is a massive nod to the significance of Wi-Fi. Especially so in these times when end-user demand is outpacing the current capability and coverage of cellular networks. In fact, I bet you are even reading this connected via Wi-Fi…

Chris Spencer has authored many industry whitepapers and is a recognised Passpoint expert, having contributed to the industry standard specification.