This editorial appears in the July 2023 edition (Issue 9) of the Wi-Fi Alliance® Wi-Fi 6E Insights newsletter, a quarterly newsletter sharing updates on regulatory developments in the growing Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem. To subscribe to the newsletter, please sign up here.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Wi-Fi 6E Insights newsletter. Wi-Fi 6E refers to Wi-Fi 6 services in the 5925-7125 MHz (the 6 GHz) frequency band. Written for policymakers and regulators in the EMEA region, this newsletter covers regulatory developments relating to Wi-Fi 6E and the views of key stakeholders.
By the end of 2023, there will be an extraordinary 19.5 billion Wi-Fi® devices in use, according to the latest estimates from IDC, reflecting the enormous global demand for this cost-effective and versatile technology. The research firm anticipates that 473 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will ship in 2023, underlining the growing need to make the 6 GHz spectrum band available to further boost performance and reduce congestion.
To that end, more and more governments are making part, or all, of the 6 GHz band license-exempt. Access to this spectrum enables Wi-Fi to deliver a significant change in capacity, while also opening up the wide channels that consumers and companies need to take full advantage of Wi-Fi 6E and the forthcoming Wi-Fi 7. This is particularly true where regulators make the entire 5925-7125 MHz frequency band (“6 GHz band”) license-exempt. Importantly, the 6 GHz frequency band is the only spectrum to support the high data throughput and low latency capabilities of Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 and future generations of Wi-Fi. It will not be possible for Wi-Fi to deliver optimal performance without access to the entire 6 GHz band, and there is no alternative spectrum.
This fact is being recognized by governments across the world. Argentina and El Salvador are the latest countries to allow Wi-Fi operations in the entire 6 GHz band. Indeed, in preparations for the imminent World Radiocommunications Conference 2023 (WRC-23), the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL) highlighted the importance of harmonizing unlicensed use of the 6425-7125 MHz band to create economies of scope and scale and produce a robust equipment market, benefitting consumers and national economies worldwide.
After a meeting in Mexico City in May, CITEL published a proposal to support “No Change” to the Radio Regulations for the 6425-7125 MHz band at WRC-23. As CITEL notes, the existing mobile service allocation gives administrations the flexibility to harness the spectrum in a way that best meets the needs of their market. (See the special feature for an interview with Paul Deedman, Director, Spectrum Regulation at Viasat for more on preparations for WRC-23). As the vast majority of internet traffic is indoors, many governments around the world are coming to the conclusion that Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies require more access to the 6 GHz band than International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT).
In Asia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand have all recently decided to make at least part of the 6 GHz band license-exempt. Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority noted that the allocation is timely and meets the increasing demand for bandwidth-intensive and low latency use cases and also enables a seamless experience as end users transition between the different connectivity options in Singapore. Meanwhile in Africa, South Africa and Namibia are the latest countries to implement the African Telecommunications Union’s recommendation to make the lower 6 GHz band license-exempt. As explained in our special feature, there isn’t yet a consensus in Africa, the Middle East, or Europe on how best to use the upper 6 GHz band.
In the U.S., which opened the entire 6 GHz band for license-exempt access back in April of 2020, mobile operators have more than enough capacity in the C band (in the 3 GHz range) to meet the demand for 5G, even from customers using the technology as their primary broadband link. Verizon, for example, now has almost two million fixed wireless access connections, which it is serving with 5G in the 3 GHz band. On a recent earnings call with analysts, Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, said: “I feel really confident that we will manage this capacity without any problems.”
Whether they use a wireless broadband connection or a broadband connection, almost every household and business will rely on Wi-Fi to extend that connectivity across their property. 5G and fiber links can offer high throughput speeds, and Wi-Fi connections must also be robust and capable. With access to the entire 6 GHz band, Wi-Fi 6E can fully leverage the performance of gigabit connectivity, such as that offered by fiber-to-the-building (FTTB) networks.
Crucially, Wi-Fi offers a cost-effective and energy-efficient (see the new research from WIK Consult) solution to provide wireless broadband connectivity, a key consideration in a time of high inflation. 75% of the respondents in the European Commission’s recent Eurobarometer survey (which surveys 1,000 people in each EU country) said that more affordable high speed internet connection would significantly facilitate their use of digital technologies, and 41% think an affordable high speed internet connection would do so to a very significant extent. From these results, we can conclude that affordability will be a key factor in determining whether Europe achieves its digital objectives.
It is not surprising then that industry analysts expect demand for Wi-Fi 6E to continue to grow rapidly. As Phil Solis, Research Director at IDC, said: “The 6 GHz band will be critical for supporting the future of Wi-Fi…it allows for performance, capacity, and reliability that 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz cannot provide.”
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