The current global health crisis has shown that Wi-Fi has never been more important.
Imagine where we would have been without Wi-Fi in our homes, hospitals and governments – Wi-Fi as a technology is what has allowed businesses, schools, healthcare facilities and government agencies to continue their operations remotely. Wi-Fi’s central role in providing high quality connectivity is nothing new. It has simply come to the fore under the crisis.
But we are at a critical crossroad to ensure that Wi-Fi can continue to fulfil this critical role. You do not have to have lived under a rock to have missed this important piece of news as this crucial development has been happening somewhat under the Brussels bubble political radar.
The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) has been deep in the technical weeds for the last two and a half years to draft rules for allowing Wi-Fi into the lower 6GHz band. This process is now entering into its final phase.
Considering no new mid-band spectrum has been made available for Wi-Fi since 2004, the good news is that there is a strong majority to move ahead to make sure Wi-Fi will gain much-needed additional spectrum in the 6 GHz band to keep providing high speed, high quality wireless broadband in Europe.
The bad news is that the rules are drafted in a way that would introduce a two-speed Europe, with countries moving at different paces of implementation, potentially postponing the release of the spectrum indefinitely and giving countries a carte blanche to impose regulatory requirements above and beyond those agreed at a European level.
The rules have been drafted in this way to accommodate a couple of countries and to prevent further delays for the vast majority of countries that are ready to move. However, considering the CEPT work is in intended as the technical basis for an EU Decision to harmonise this spectrum across the EU, this approach is in direct opposition to Europe’s political ambitions to make Europe ready for the digital age; bring gigabit broadband; and a seamless European digital single market to Europe’s citizens and businesses.
Behind all of this lies the issue of how Wi-Fi will share the spectrum with incumbent users, notably urban rail, satellites, and fixed terrestrial links for mobile backhaul. We of course agree that opening up the 6GHz band for Wi-Fi should not happen at the expense of these existing users. This is why the draft rules already contain restrictions, notably that the opening of the band is limited to Low Power Indoor (like your home Wi-Fi router) and Very Low Power portable (like your smartphone or watch) and includes limited power levels and guard bands to protect urban rail systems.
To date, we have not seen objective scientific evidence to demonstrate the need for additional restrictions above and beyond those already mentioned, and notably the justification for the carte blanche to introduce additional national requirements. This particularly relates to a concern that Wi-Fi could, in a worst-case scenario, cause interference to a fixed link. Most European countries have fixed links in the band but only one country is requesting additional protections. Surely if there was a well-documented risk, other countries would equally want such additional protections.
CEPT is, as mentioned, entering into the final phase of drafting these rules. Rules that can – and we hope will – be changed following the public consultation that will close tomorrow. Whilst all of this may seem (and is) incredibly technical, it is also something that citizens and businesses will be able to experience the everyday impact of. CEPT’s decision boils down to whether or not we want to create the right framework to bring better, faster and more reliable wireless broadband to Europe. We urge countries and the European Commission to do precisely that and support harmonised rules and regulations enabling the timely access to the lower 6 GHz band under a licence-exempt regime.