All around the world, internet usage continues to rise, as more aspects of our lives become connected. As of January 2021, the number of active internet users worldwide rose to over 4.5 billion, accounting for over half of the entire population.
As we shop, socialize, and work online, the need for connectivity will continue to rise, meaning steps must be taken to ensure this demand is met. Wi-Fi technology has evolved from being an amenity to an essential element in many of our lives.
That being said, the portion of the population without internet access are at significant risk of being left behind. Highlighted by the ongoing pandemic, access to the internet helps us to stay in touch with loved ones, continue to work wherever we are, and access a wealth of information that is key for healthcare and education. We must bridge this digital divide to offer more equal opportunities to those living without internet access. Access to affordable Wi-Fi is proving to be increasingly important and there are some new initiatives such as the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program which is helping to make Wi-Fi more obtainable for low income users.
Why the full 1200 MHz, and why now?
Spectrum is a finite source. In order to meet the rising demand for connectivity, as well as bridging the divide between the connected and unconnected, we must use spectrum in the most efficient way possible. By opening new bands of spectrum for unlicensed access, congestion in existing bands is relieved, and innovative use cases are supplied with necessary spectrum. Opening the full 6 GHz band to license-exempt Radio Local Area Network (RLAN) technologies is the best public policy choice for regulators globally. While regulators like the European Commission (EC) have allowed some unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band, the full 1200 MHz is needed to suitably support existing and emerging use cases. Following the November 2021 ECC Plenary, we can foresee future coexistence studies for the upper part of the band.
As we realise the full potential of Wi-Fi 6E, advanced use cases that demand increasing amounts of broadband will need access to the full 6 GHz band. Wi-Fi 6E technology is ready now, with complete standards, open interoperability certification, and equipment moving into the market. The benefits of spectrum use are available immediately, and regulators should not delay in opening the full 6 GHz band.
The evidence is out there
Research shows that allowing unlicenced access to the 6 GHz band could add billions to national economies. Studies conducted by the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance and Telecom Advisory Services LLC (TAS) show that access could add US$150.27 billion to the Mexican economy and up to US$58.93 billion to the Colombian economy between 2021 and 2030. In Peru, US$ 22.87 billion could be added, and in the case of Brazil, citizens will benefit from an additional $163.5 billion.
Since the beginning of 2021, a number of governments have already opened up the band for unlicensed access. Peru’s Ministry of Transport and Communications made the decision to effectively support the modern digital ecosystem by opening up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed access during May, following the same decision by Saudi Arabia in April. Earlier in the year, Brazil’s decision to open up the whole 1200 MHz was celebrated, and while the European Commissionisencouraged to open the full band, 480 MHz was made available in the first step towards accelerating digital transformation in the region.
A bright future for Wi-Fi and 5G alike
In order to continue bridging the digital divide and prepare for innovative technologies enabled by Wi-Fi 6E and 5G, governments worldwide should continue to open up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed access. By authorising unlicensed access, 5G will benefit as well as Wi-Fi through mobile offload, and with the opportunity of implementing 5G New Radio Unlicensed operation. Indoor environments will be better supported by Wi-Fi, saving operator capital expenses and conserving licensed mobile spectrum capacity for outdoor and mobile use cases. Unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band, will protect fixed link incumbents and fixed satellite services that can remain in the 6 GHz band helping to supportthe challenging 5G ecosystem.
Opening the 6 GHz band for unlicensed access will not only support existing areas of high demand, but bring connectivity to underserved regions, for example with a combination of satellite technologies and Wi-Fi, ensuring that all citizens can take full advantage of broadband access and digital inclusion. By taking swift action, countries can join leading regulators in enabling substantial innovation and socio-economic growth through efficient spectrum allocation.
Martha Suarez, President of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance