This exclusive interview appears in the second issue of our 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.
The United Arab Emirates’ Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) has designated 500 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (5925-6425 MHz) to Wi-Fi. Eng. Tariq Al Awadhi, executive director for spectrum management at TDRA and head of the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG), and Eng. Sultan Albalooshi, manager of spectrum policy at the TDRA, discuss how Wi-Fi is set to evolve in the Arab States.
How big a role does Wi-Fi play in enabling consumers and companies in the Arab States to get connected?
Wi-Fi is one of the important access mechanisms for many services to households in our region. Our schools, working from home, and other services all depend on very high- quality services to meet consumer demands. Wi-Fi is the best basic tool for providing internet connectivity, to allow this kind of flexibility and convenience.
How do you see Wi-Fi working alongside other technologies, such as 5G, 4G, and fiber?
They are complementary. Combining Wi-Fi with IMT technologies, whether that is 5G, 4G, or 3G or whatever, with fiber backhaul, will provide the greatest opportunity for a cost-effective network.
How is the ASMG coordinating spectrum policy with respect to the 6 GHz band?
The ASMG has established a New Technologies Working Group, which is chaired by Eng. Sultan Albalooshi. This group is considering how to use 6 GHz and the new generation of Wi‑Fi networks. Their activities are carried out in collaboration with partners from industry.
What do you regard as the key steps regulators should take with respect to utilizing the 6 GHz band?
There are a few things that we have to do. First, is the need for a migration plan, as we have a lot of fixed services in the 6 GHz band. We also have to see an assessment of the market and future developments.
And then there is the availability of equipment – to see whether the system, the equipment is available with standards, and identify the technical and regulatory conditions to ensure the protection of existing services.
What are your thoughts on why some national regulators in the region have made the full 6 GHz band available for license-exempt access, while others have released the lower part of the band?
It depends on the needs of the country and on their existing users. Some regulators take a conservative approach in this regard, while others prefer to provide the market with a clear direction on the use.
There are other factors, such as market uptake and utilization of Wi-Fi, and the Agenda Item 1.2 for WRC-23, the time required for standards to be developed and the bandwidth required for different applications.
When it comes to the upper 6 GHz band, we are flexible. We need to see the studies. So we may go for Wi-Fi later on or we may go for mobile. It all depends on the need, the requirement, the devices that are available for the full 1200 MHz for Wi-Fi. Will they be available very soon or not?
How important is it for the Arab States to adopt a common approach to harnessing the full 6 GHz band?
All our work is directed towards harmonization. If you have harmonization, that will be better. A common approach is a key element in facilitating use of devices and mobility between countries.
All our work in the ITU is towards global alignment. If we can’t have it globally, we will have it regionally. Especially in the ITU Region 1, it is important to ensure the harmonized use of frequencies in the 6 GHz band, to have a global or regional ecosystem and to minimize the possibilities of harmful interference between services.
When do you anticipate that Wi-Fi 6E products will be widely available in the Arab States?
There are several countries that have already decided to make all or part of the 6 GHz band license-exempt. In the UAE, we did it for 500 MHz, but in some other countries like Saudi Arabia, they have already announced they will use the full band. In Qatar, they put it in the consultation and I think they are good for the full band. In Morocco, it is also 500 MHz.
In the UAE, a decision has been made, a resolution has been issued, the market is ready: the supporting devices will be available widely by the second half of 2021.
How big an impact do you expect license-exempt access to 6 GHz to have on connectivity in the region?
The latest Wi-Fi standard, which will primarily use the 6 GHz frequency band, promises theoretical speeds of 10 Gbps, as well as better management of spectrum and a consistent environment for faster services, all per the theoretical standard.
Looking ahead, Wi-Fi 7 will look to utilize multiple 320 MHz channels. What is the best way to accommodate that requirement?
It will be essential for us to look at these new technologies, to study the future deployment, possible candidate frequency bands and the timeline for these frequencies to be available. As the ASMG group, and as individual Arab countries, we should look into this future and work with the standards bodies to find support for a band that can accommodate Wi-Fi 7.
Some of the Arab states have allowed Wi-Fi to use 1200 MHz. Is this enough to accommodate Wi-Fi 7’s requirements or would we need extra? What is the timeline for the standards that are under development?
We have started talking about 6G already, so maybe there will be convergence with Wi-Fi 7. These are the sort of topics about which we would like to know more, especially in the ASMG.
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