The Beacon

Wi-Fi® study reveals need for additional unlicensed spectrum

Alex Roytblat

Over the last two decades, Wi-Fi® has met user needs for two significant trends – near constant connection and an ever-growing demand for data. First, Wi-Fi has evolved from emerging technology to essential component of telecommunications infrastructure. Users rely on Wi-Fi as the primary means for internet access because Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, affordable, and offers performance that is well suited for current and emerging applications. Whether in the home, office, or outdoors, untethered internet access via Wi-Fi is essential for consumers worldwide. Second, user demand for data continues to grow at an exponential rate. IP traffic is projected to increase nearly threefold in the next five years with a majority of that traffic delivered over Wi-Fi.1

The availability of corresponding unlicensed spectrum access has not kept pace with the extraordinary growth and adoption of Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi functionality is dependent on adequate unlicensed spectrum access. It’s no surprise that the projected continued growth in Wi-Fi use is likely to require additional unlicensed spectrum to support current and future operations. Recognizing this fact, Wi-Fi Alliance® commissioned an independent analysis to better assess future Wi-Fi spectrum needs.

The Wi-Fi Spectrum Needs Study undertakes a comprehensive analysis to determine the number of channels required to support Wi-Fi traffic by taking into consideration existing and future Wi-Fi device capabilities and deployment needs for business, residential, and public locations. The study evaluates two demand scenarios: the expected traffic growth and the potential unexpected increase that may come from novel applications. Built into the predictions are technology advancements, such as transmission rates, video coding improvements, and device capabilities. Findings include:

  • The ever-growing number and diversity of Wi-Fi devices along with increased connection speeds and data traffic volumes will exceed the capacity of spectrum currently available in the 5 GHz band by 2020;
  • Between 500 MHz and 1 GHz of additional spectrum in various world regions may be needed to support expected growth in Wi-Fi by 2020;
  • If demand for Wi-Fi exceeds expected growth, then between 1.3 GHz and 1.8 GHz more spectrum may be required by 2025; and
  • Wi-Fi spectrum needs to be sufficiently contiguous to support 160 MHz wide channels, which are required to support a growing number of bandwidth-intensive applications and to allow maximum Wi-Fi benefits to be attained.

The Wi-Fi Spectrum Needs Study provides evidence that expected growth in Wi-Fi use and deployment will exhaust available unlicensed spectrum capacity in the near future and additional spectrum allocations are required to ensure Wi-Fi functionality at the service level that users expect. Wi-Fi Alliance and its members are working to ensure that policymakers and regulators around the world are aware of the looming Wi-Fi spectrum crunch and take necessary actions to resolve
the issue.

Those who share the same spectrum concerns are encouraged to join Wi-Fi Alliance activities!


1The Zettabyte Era — Trends and Analysis – Cisco


The statements and opinions by each Wi-Fi Alliance member and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions or views of Wi-Fi Alliance or any other member. Wi-Fi Alliance is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by any member in posting to or commenting on this blog. Concerns should be directed to

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Alex Roytblat

Vice President, Worldwide Regulatory Affairs

Alex Roytblat is Vice President of Worldwide Regulatory Affairs, where he is responsible for managing and overseeing all regulatory matters and compliance issues related to the Wi-Fi ecosystem. In his role, Alex works with Wi-Fi Alliance members, directors and executives to advance policy priorities with policymakers, regulators and other stakeholders.

With more than 25 years of experience in telecom regulations, Alex is an internationally recognized expert with a deep understanding of the regulatory landscape. Prior to joining Wi-Fi Alliance, Alex served at the United States Federal Communications Commission, where he was involved in all phases of domestic and international radio spectrum management processes. Previously, Alex held technical roles at Stanford Telecommunications and Booz Allen & Hamilton. He holds a Master of Science in Communications Networks from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (Eta Kappa Nu) from George Mason University.