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What, Why, Where, When, How: The New FCC Ruling Around 5 GHz

You don’t need me to tell you to know that we are in the midst of a technology revolution.  It’s mobilizing the internet.  And it’s transforming the way billions of people around the globe collaborate, communicate, and connect to the internet.

•           The education customers I work with are incorporating video and mobile applications into their curriculum with up to a 100 students in an auditorium accessing the Wi-Fi network simultaneously.

•           Healthcare customers are relying on Wi-Fi to connect patients, devices and provide nurses instant access to medical records.

•           Manufacturing customers are increasingly using Wi-Fi to enable workers on the factory floor to have real-time video conversations with experts anywhere in the globe.

What do these things have in common?  They all depend on Wi-Fi for connectivity.  In these areas, and so many more, Wi-Fi has become a central way that people access the Internet.

The FCC released a historic decision on April 1, 2014 (adopted March 31)with regards to the use of 5 GHz spectrum. Although there were many technical aspects included within this decision, one of the most interesting was making the 5150-5250 MHz U-NII 1 band available for outdoor WLAN use.

Helping drive this decision are the growing deployment of Wi-Fi networks by both broadband service providers as augmentation for their fixed wired services and by mobile operators seeking to provide seamless internet connectivity across their 3G/4G and WiFi networks. Furthermore, the emergence of products implementing the 802.11ac amendment (with its increased channel widths of 80 MHz in first generation products and 160 MHz expected in next generation products) makes it evident that making additional 5 GHz spectrum available it crucial for the growth of Wi-Fi networks. Finally, and in tandem, the industry momentum provided by the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 program (and the corresponding Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint interoperability certification) making connectivity to secure WLANs as simple and seamless as that of cellular networks only points to increasing use of public Wi-Fi (and therefore increasing demands on available spectrum).

The new FCC ruling around U-NII 1 is the result of many years of work in the industry, and has required open collaboration between various wireless stakeholders, especially network operators, network equipment vendors, and mobile device manufacturers.

A key factor in helping the FCC reach this groundbreaking decision was Cisco’s direct participation in and contributions to the process. Cisco dove into this initiative several years ago with the objective of seeing additional 5 GHz spectrum opened up. In particular, our very own Mary Brown, from Cisco’s Government Affairs group, led the effort in coordinating Cisco technical resources, in addition to working with the industry stakeholders. As our lead corporate representative, Mary was instrumental for Cisco acting as a “trusted advisor” to the FCC. A lion’s share of the credit goes to Mary for her tireless diligence and unwavering devotion in helping to fulfill a vision.

To be sure, there are some significant technical challenges in the 5 GHz band.  It is not cleared spectrum.  It contains incumbent uses important for national security and public safety.  And it’s imperative that Wi-Fi not create harmful interference to these incumbent systems.  Cisco will not settle for less.

Bottom line:  Adding more spectrum for broadband and Wi-Fi will lead to new ecosystems, new industries and new jobs, as well as help ensure technological leadership around the globe.

To build on our commitment to the industry and match the initiative, I am proud to announce on behalf of the Enterprise Networking Group that the  1530 Series and 1550 Series Outdoor Access Points  will be our first outdoor WLAN products that will implement the capabilities enabled by the new FCC ruling in an upcoming software release.

Existing and future customers of these access points will benefit from being able to use this 100 MHz U-NII 1 spectrum for outdoor environments (historically the U-NII 1 band has been available only for indoor deployments). Existing 1530 Series and 1550 Series Outdoor Access Points customers will be able to perform a field upgrade to enable operation in this band.

We at Cisco are committed to thought leadership in all aspects of the wireless industry. This FCC decision is just one of many efforts we have to create a more connected world. We look forward to sharing more exciting news about our projects and initiatives. Stay tuned!

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