On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission took a big step toward alleviating congestion and improving the speed on Wi-Fi networks with a vote that will free up an additional 100MHz of wireless spectrum for unlicensed use.
During its open meeting Monday, the Commission voted unanimously to open up the airwaves that are part of the lower part of the 5GHz band of wireless spectrum for use by Wi-Fi devices. This sliver of spectrum had previously been used for satellite phone companies.
The additional spectrum will be used to alleviate congestion on existing Wi-Fi networks, especially in public areas such as convention centers, sports arenas, and airports. But it also will help pave the way toward faster speeds on Wi-Fi.
Comcast CTO Tony Werner said in a blog post today that Comcast and other commercial operators using unlicensed spectrum could use this additional capacity to deploy Wi-Fi with download speeds up to 1Gbps. And once this "Gigabit Wi-Fi" is deployed, he said, consumers will be able to watch high-quality, high-defintiion video on tablets, laptops, and smartphones without buffering or interruption, as often happens today when more than one device is using the same Wi-Fi connection.
"I want to commend the FCC's Chairman, Commissioners, and team of engineers for their swift action," Werner said in his blog. "Today's unanimous decision demonstrates the urgent need to bring more Wi-Fi spectrum to market, as well as the widespread support for making sure the US continues to have best-in-class broadband connections. It also shows, as Commissioner [Jessica] Rosenworcel recently declared, that it is time to move on from the tired old arguments that 'pit licensed versus unlicensed,' and that 'we need to choose efficiency over inefficiency, and speed over congestion.'"
The FCC has been working on the rules for this spectrum for more than a year. The order was first introduced in February 2013. Earlier this month, Commissioner Rosenworcel encouraged the commission to finally vote on the rules.
The original proposal asked for 195MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz band to be opened for Wi-Fi use. But today's order only opened up about half that, or 100MHz worth of spectrum. There has been some discussion of whether the FCC might consider freeing up additional spectrum in the 3.5GHz and 600MHz spectrum bands as well. The FCC already plans to auction off the 600MHz broadcast spectrum in the upcoming incentive spectrum auction in 2015. While companies such as Comcast have pushed for wider "guard bands" that could be used for unlicensed use within the so-called band plan, it's unlikely that the FCC will give up too much of this valuable low-band spectrum for unlicensed use.
Still, many companies, such as Comcast, feel that the current order to free up 100MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi is a good start.
"Today's decision is a win for every consumer who uses Wi-Fi," David Don, vice president of regulatory policy for Comcast, said in a statement. "It is also an important step forward in Congress' directive to the FCC to find more unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band and the administration's goal of allocating 500MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband."