This editorial appears in the March 2023 edition (Issue 8) 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 and beyond, this newsletter covers regulatory developments relating to Wi-Fi 6E and the views of key stakeholders.
Across the world, Wi-Fi® carries most of the internet traffic generated by both consumers and enterprises. That is also true in Mexico, as the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT) acknowledged on announcing the lower 6 GHz band (5925-6425 MHz) will be license-exempt, helping to alleviate congestion and support the delivery of wireless internet to small towns where there are no other connectivity alternatives. The IFT postponed a decision on the remaining 700 MHz in the 6 GHz band to a later date, depending on the technological evolution of wireless access systems and mobile telecommunications, as well as trends in the Mexican market.
While Mexico did not make the entire 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band available for license-exempt access, unlike other administrations in the region, such as Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, and the U.S., it will need to make this decision in the near future. Given that cross-border circulation of highly portable license-exempt devices is unavoidable and the proliferation of Wi-Fi 6E devices, the need for an IFT decision on the remaining 700 MHz (6425-7125 MHz) is urgent and unavoidable.
Similarly, policymakers in EMEA (aka ITU Region 1) also will need to recognize the spectrum management and connectivity imperatives of the 6 GHz band at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23). An IMT identification would have a chilling effect on the vibrant Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem, which has already produced more than 1,200 products, and has shipped hundreds of millions of devices. By signaling that the upper 6 GHz band will be used for different purposes in different regions, an IMT identification would limit the economies of scale available to makers of Wi-Fi 6E equipment. Also, future IMT deployments wouldn’t be able to coexist with incumbent operations in the 6 GHz band, such as satellite services and fixed links, as the special feature in this edition of our newsletter makes clear. The high likelihood of interference from commercial wide-area 5G deployments (i.e. IMT) would force incumbents to relocate out of the 6 GHz band, which may not be feasible or may require great expenditures.
By contrast, Wi-Fi 6E has shown it can viably coexist in the 6 GHz band with incumbent services. Better still, where the spectrum is license-exempt, citizens and companies can benefit from the high performance connectivity offered by Wi-Fi 6E today. While Wi-Fi 6E access points, laptops, smartphones, and other devices are widely available, IMT equipment compatible with the 6 GHz band is unlikely to appear in any volume until the end of this decade (if at all).
Furthermore, Wi-Fi is both a highly affordable and sustainable form of connectivity, as it enables multiple users to share a low power connection. Making the full 6 GHz band (5925/5945-7125 MHz) license-exempt would enable Wi-Fi to access wide channels, further improving its efficiency. As Europe’s Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) has noted, “the availability of large contiguous frequency blocks could avoid the energy consumption associated with the support of multiple carriers and carrier aggregation.” The RSPG advised governments to improve the energy efficiency of networks by making available spectrum in the largest blocks possible.
Our latest case study clearly shows the value to organizations of being able to harness the full 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band. As the Communications, Space & Technology Commission, Saudi Arabia’s regulator, recently demonstrated, Wi-Fi 6E can deliver 2.4 Gbps to a single user, which is more than enough to support even the most demanding applications.
Preserving the viability of the 6425-7125 MHz band at WRC-23 (i.e., no change) would retain the existing mobile allocation, which gives administrations the flexibility to make the best decision for their countries.
Although some governments may be tempted to try and bolster the public finances by auctioning the upper 6 GHz band for IMT, this would be counterproductive. As a new paper from the University of East Anglia in the UK shows, IMT in the 6 GHz band would generate less value than Wi-Fi in the band, impacting the broader economy and depressing tax revenues. Furthermore, according to the GSMA in a Policy Tracker article, it takes approximately 10 years from harmonization at the ITU to implementation, which would imply IMT products for the 6 GHz band won’t be available until 2033.
In any case, the lack of compatible IMT equipment means telecoms operators may not want to license 6 GHz spectrum for many years to come. In the meantime, an IMT identification at WRC-23 could still do significant damage to the global economy. With a large part of the world already having opened the 5925-7125 MHz band for license-exempt use, an IMT identification of that band in Region 1 could lead to unnecessary fragmentation, reduced economies of scale, and increased costs for citizens and businesses across the world.
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