This editorial appears in the July 2022 edition (Issue 6) 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 extended into 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.
A vast array of smart devices – including laptops, smartphones, routers, and TVS – are now equipped with Wi-Fi 6E. In a growing number of countries, consumers and businesses can use these devices in the 6 GHz band, taking advantage of advances in capacity, throughput, and responsiveness.
In EMEA, most citizens have yet to enjoy the full potential of Wi-Fi 6E. Europe has made the lower 6 GHz band (5945-6425 MHz) license-exempt, but the future of the upper 6 GHz band (6425-7125 MHz) remains in doubt.
Across EMEA, the full 6 GHz band will need to be license-exempt to keep pace with demand for Wi-Fi®. Most internet access takes place indoors – where Wi-Fi is the connectivity technology of choice. As a result, Wi-Fi is used more extensively than cellular connectivity, even though the latter has access to far more spectrum. In Germany, for example, Wi-Fi networks carried approximately 17 times as much traffic as cellular/IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications) networks in 2021.
With Wi-Fi traffic doubling every three years, that growth means Wi-Fi will need all 1200 MHz available in the 6 GHz band in both the consumer and enterprise markets. That new spectrum would make a huge difference: Wi-Fi networks with access to the full 6 GHz band would support three to four times as many simultaneous users as existing Wi-Fi networks, according to another new report. Europe risks falling behind the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and other countries, if it does not make the entire 6 GHz band license-exempt.
What kind of connectivity can coexist with the incumbents?
The Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), which advises the European Commission, has launched a public consultation on a draft opinion on the ITU-R World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23). That opinion lays out options relating to Agenda Item 1.2 at WRC-23, which will consider proposals to allocate some mid-band spectrum (including the upper 6 GHz band) to IMT.
The RSPG consultation document says that studies suggest there is a possible opportunity for sharing between IMT (including macro base stations) and the existing fixed satellite services in this band. But in reality those studies show that such sharing is only feasible with small numbers of outdoor IMT base stations. In other words, these IMT networks are very unlikely to be commercially viable. Low power Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, could share with the incumbent services without any significant issues.
IMT services in the 6 GHz band could also disrupt existing microwave link services. The RSPG consultation document notes that the 6425-7125 MHz band “is heavily used by long distance and high-capacity fixed links in Europe, such as for backhauling. The coexistence of outdoor standard power IMT/5G base stations with fixed links requires long separation distances. In some countries, several fixed links belong to critical infrastructure.”
In any case, IMT services have access to plenty of other mid-band spectrum, as many regulators recognize. The Communications Regulatory Authority of Qatar, for example, recently stated that there is sufficient spectrum available across lower, mid, and high frequency bands to cater for the current and future needs of 5G. Indeed, Wi-Fi 6E has growing momentum in the Arab States exemplified in Qatar’s recent decision in support of making the entire 6 GHz band license-exempt.
Affordable connectivity underpins economic growth
The African Telecommunications Union (ATU) has recommended that its member governments allow license-exempt technologies to operate in the lower 6 GHz (5925-6425 MHz) band. Now African governments need to implement the ATU recommendation in a timely fashion to help address the license-exempt spectrum shortfall and bring major socioeconomic benefits to Africa.
The socioeconomic benefits would be even greater if African countries were to open up the full 6 GHz band. If Kenya, for example, were to enable license-exempt access to the full 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band, that would generate cumulative economic value of up to US $20 billion between 2021 and 2030 for the Kenyan economy. For Nigeria, the equivalent figure is up to US $72 billion, while for South Africa it is up to US$58 billion, according to research by Telecoms Advisory Services.
Better still, these economic benefits will be widely distributed. Wi-Fi connectivity is both affordable and inclusive. Not everyone can buy an expensive cellular device and pay a high monthly fee to access the internet. But Wi-Fi can enable dozens of members of a community to share a single broadband internet connection simultaneously, making the service more affordable for each individual. In Africa, where there is just one internet connection for every three people, sharing is a must.
Automatic frequency coordination (AFC) systems could enable Wi-Fi networks to operate at standard power in the 6 GHz band. This approach could be used to provide high-speed point-to-point internet access to a community centre, for example, which would be much more cost-effective than installing a dedicated fixed-line.
As they operate in license-exempt spectrum, Wi-Fi hotspots don’t require a potentially expensive license or prior registration. Wi-Fi can be deployed by anybody who needs an efficient and low cost way for their family or employees to access a wide range of internet-based services, including vital healthcare advice, educational content, and financial services.
We hope you find this newsletter a useful source of information on Wi-Fi 6E and its potential to drive socioeconomic progress. If you would like to receive further editions, please subscribe.
 Report: How do Europeans connect to the internet? Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, June 2021. The report shows that 95% of internet traffic in Germany travels over fixed networks and 5% over mobile networks, while approximately 90% of fixed-line traffic is transmitted via Wi-Fi.
 Report: Socioeconomic benefits of IMT versus RLAN in the 6425-7125 MHz band in Europe Researched and written for the DSA by LS Telcom and Valdani Vicari & Associati, June 2021
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