The World Runs on Wi-Fi: With Wi Fi 6, Now Is the Time to Open Up More Unlicensed Spectrum for It
At Cisco, we could not be more excited about this week’s launch of our generational advance in Wi-Fi technology known as Wi-Fi 6. And it’s no wonder why: the world truly does run on Wi-Fi. As we enter an era of 5G, IoT, and AI, our new Wi-Fi 6 access points and switching technology will be at the heart of the innovative new applications and services that will positively impact consumers, governments, and businesses around the world.
Before we get there, however, we have to consider the impact policymakers will have on achieving the benefits of these transformational wireless technologies.
No one will experience the full power of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G unless policymakers can find more spectrum for Wi-Fi. As wonderful as Wi-Fi 6 is, globally it is being launched on existing radio spectrum. That spectrum in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands is “chopped up” into non-contiguous pieces. In order to deliver communities and businesses the high-speed experience of today, industry has to take these non-contiguous blocks and further separate them into smaller channels. Make no mistake, our industry is working hard to efficiently deliver fast broadband, but for Wi-Fi 6, we will not be taking full advantage of the technology unless we can feed it a larger number of wider channels available on contiguous spectrum.
Why should the arrival of Wi Fi 6 prompt regulators to act? Because the innovation contained in Wi-Fi 6, as evidenced by Cisco’s latest access points, is transformational. Not only can this technology improve the battery life of your devices, it can speak multiple “RF languages,” use airwaves much more efficiently by simultaneously targeting delivery of communications to individual devices, improve spectrum re-use, perform better in congested environments, support AR and VR for learning in the classroom and the enterprise, and easily connect to all those devices in your home or business that are connected today or begging to be connected in the future. And that’s a partial list. Wi-Fi 6 is a big, big deal.
Policymakers should also be delighted that the biggest radio ecosystem measured by traffic – namely, Wi-Fi – has managed to figure out multiple ways to improve spectrum utilization in this, its 6thgeneration of technology. That’s important because while global Wi Fi traffic in 2017 amounted to 52.5 exabytes per month, by 2022 it will be flowing at a rate of 202.8 exabytes per month. And, policymakers should be happy that this latest technology both supports improved user experiences and addresses many more use cases to make our economy shine brighter.
We applaud regulators in the US and Europe for taking a hard look at whether additional spectrum can be made available to Wi-Fi 6 technologies. Both the US FCC and the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations are presently considering opening the 6 GHz band to unlicensed use.
As is always the case with radio spectrum, there are serious issues to be addressed, including how incumbent radio systems can be protected if unlicensed enters the band. However, we are confident that there is a path regulators can find to give one of the world’s most critical technologies – Wi-Fi – the improved access to spectrum needed to realize its full ambitions.