FCC unanimously votes to make 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use

The US telecoms regulator didn’t split along partisan lines for once and is giving the country a lot more bandwidth to use for wifi and that sort of thing.

The FCC commissioners have had three weeks to argue the toss over the relative merits of freeing up the whole 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use, rather than licensing some of it to mobile operators. We expected them to vote in favour of it, but only by a 3-2 majority as the commissioners affiliated to the Democrat Party performed their standard Pavlovian objection. We were pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong this time, however, with all five giving it the green light.

“By doing this, we are effectively increasing the amount of mid-band spectrum available for wifi by almost a factor of five,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “This will be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. Wi-Fi NOW’s Claus Hetting, a champion of wifi innovation, said it perfectly: ‘The truth is that this 6 GHz spectrum boost will launch the wifi industry into a new growth trajectory. It will boost wifi’s massive indoor dominance and surely, with the help of emboldened entrepreneurs everywhere, it will bring low-cost wifi (and unlicensed) connectivity to places where it has never been.’”

“While some argue that the unlicensed community doesn’t need the full 1200 megahertz of spectrum, I strongly disagree,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. “Instead of doling out unlicensed spectrum in slivers or piecemeal through some dividend mechanism, we have the chance to provide a huge, much needed infusion of wireless currency to American innovators and entrepreneurs, who will undoubtedly amaze us with their ingenuity. Moreover, to obtain unlicensed 5G-like capabilities, 160 megahertz channels, or eventually 320 megahertz under Wi-Fi 7, are absolutely necessary. “

“I suspect this order will not be remembered because it enabled faster Netflix downloads,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr. “We don’t know what the future holds, but maybe the present pandemic gives us some clues about what’s around the corner. Millions of kids, including mine, are out of school today and stuck at home. Teachers and parents are working hard to keep them learning. Some are turning to video calls to enhance in-home learning, but even that does not capture the feedback between student and teacher that exists in the classroom.”

“With this decision on unlicensed spectrum we do well by the law, we add more permissionless airwaves to the wireless economy, and we expand the democratizing force of having more wifi in more places,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “Amen. Those are good things to do in this crisis and for the days ahead.”

“The 6 GHz spectrum is expected to complement 5G wireless service and unleash a wave of innovation for the Internet of Things,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “It will allow doctors to conduct complex examinations and procedures remotely, enable the training of students and workers using virtual and augmented reality, and spur the next generation of streaming content and gaming.”

All the Commissioners made reference to the importance of wifi in keeping everyone connected while they’re locked down, which probably contributed to this rare unanimity. It’s fair to say wifi is having a good pandemic and the  wifi industry is specially pleased about what this means for realizing the full potential of Wi-Fi 6. We already heard from Wi-Fi NOW via Pai, so here’s what Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, had to say.

“Extending wifi into the 6 GHz spectrum band can provide more wifi capacity than all the other bands put together,” said Rodrigues. “What’s more, using Wi-Fi 6 technology in the extended band (also known as Wi-Fi 6E) will deliver higher speeds, low latency and service levels that are equivalent to 5G networks and be able to support the widespread, low-cost, use of advanced business, industrial and consumer applications. In terms of the capability and capacity of networks, Wi-Fi 6E, will rewrite the rules of what is possible.

“Wi-Fi 6E technology is designed to deliver performance in highly congested places and the next phase of our trials will prove that performance in real world locations. These trials will demonstrate the application and the benefits of the technology in live environments and through this accelerate the adoption and creation of new business opportunities enabled by the opening of the 6GHz spectrum to be used for wifi services.”

Various other wifi stakeholders, including Google and Intel, also applauded the move, so any US operators that feel hardly done by would be well advised to keep their opinions to themselves. Conspiracy theorists, however, are unlikely to do so and it’s surely just a matter of time before the tinfoil hat brigade start foaming about how wifi over 6 GHz gives you coronavirus, or is used for mind control, or some such attention-seeking guff.

US moves to massively increase bandwidth available to wifi

Ajit Pai, the Chairman of US comms regulator FCC, has proposed making 1.2 GHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use.

“From wifi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” said Pai. “That trend will only continue. Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to wifi by 2022. To accommodate that increase in wifi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of wifi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use.

“By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for wifi almost by a factor of five. This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks. And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”

Right now wifi uses a few hundred MHz in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. This proposal would enable a ton of extra spectrum contiguous to the 5 GHz band, which would be especially handy for technologies that make use of fatter pipes. The proposal authorizes two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available.

“The proposed opening of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6 technology will be a game changer for global wifi, said Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of Wireless Broadband Alliance. “This new band would provide more capacity than all the other wifi bands put together. If approved, it would prove critical for overcrowding on many wifi networks, especially in light of the volumes of bandwidth hungry corporate traffic recently pushed onto home networks due to COVID-19.

“This is one of the reasons we have been working closely with members on initial trials of Wi-Fi 6E. The proposed release of the 6 GHz band would mean that we can generate multi-gigabit speeds and low-latency connections to deliver advanced mobile services to consumers, business and industry. Wi-Fi 6E is already proven in trials to achieve speeds to rival those of advanced 5G mobile networks.”

This proposal will probably be opposed by some US operators as they fancied a bit more 5G licensed spectrum in that band, but they’ve got plenty already so it doesn’t look like Pai is very sympathetic to their plight. You can read more about his thinking in an article he published here. The proposal will be voted on at the FCC’s open meeting on April 23, which will presumably split along partisan lines as usual, meaning the majority Republicans will wave it through.

Wi-Fi 6E trials claim to show what a good idea wifi over 6 GHz band is

The Wireless Broadband Alliance is claiming that recent trials of Wi-Fi 6E over 6 GHz have delivered 5G-like performance.

Broadcom and Intel have been mucking about with the latest flavour of wifi during enterprise trials in San Jose, California. They have apparently hit 2 Gbps of throughput during those trials, as well as a consistent two-millisecond low-latency connection. Since the whole point of 5G is faster speeds at lower latencies, the obvious comparison is being made.

“Opening the 6 GHz spectrum will change the game for Wi-Fi 6 by delivering faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliable connectivity for a wide range of consumer and professional applications,” said Eric Mclaughlin GM of the Wireless Solutions Group at Intel. “Intel is committed to partnering with the industry to drive innovation and enable leadership connectivity experiences, and we look forward to bringing our Wi-Fi 6E products to Intel PC platforms that can harness the full benefits of the most advanced wifi technology available.”

“We are excited to enable real world trials conducted by the WBA that demonstrate the power of Wi-Fi 6E,” said Vijay Nagarajan, VP of Marketing at Broadcom. “Wi-Fi 6E will provide reliable high-throughput, low-latency wireless services by deploying Wi-Fi 6 technologies in the soon-to-be-unlicensed and uncongested 6 GHz band.”

“Wi-Fi 6 networks extended into the 6 GHz spectrum represent a multi-generational shift in wifi services and the user experience,” said Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the WBA. “This trial is an important step in the process of effectively demonstrating the benefits that wifi networks can deliver in the 6 GHz spectrum band. The Wi-Fi 6 standard and the 6 GHz spectrum in combination can play a powerful role to deliver advanced mobile services to consumers, business and industry.”

If you still doubt them, check out this table that shows how much throughput and how little latency you get from wifi at 6 GHz, compared to 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. It should be noted that only half the amount of spectrum was used by 5 GHz and an eighth the amount by 2.4 GHz in the table, but then again that’s sort of the point of higher frequency bands – there’s more of them.

One of the reasons the WBA and its members keep banging on about 6 GHz for wifi is because it doesn’t want it to be licenced for 5G and thus taken away from it. So much extra spectrum has been freed up for 5G that it seems only fair for wifi to get a bit more too.

Wi-Fi Alliance launches Wi-Fi 6 certification

If you want to make a device using the latest generation of wifi tech, and prove it’s legit, then you need this certification apparently.

It looks making a wifi connected device isn’t just as simple as whacking a wifi chip in it. The Wi-Fi Alliance says its certification programme ‘brings new features and capabilities that enable substantially greater overall Wi-Fi network performance in challenging environments with many connected devices such as stadiums, airports, and industrial parks.’

“Wi-Fi Certified 6 is ushering in a new era of wifi, building on wifi’s core characteristics to provide better performance in every environment for users, greater network capacity for service providers to improve coverage for their customers, and new opportunities for advanced applications,” said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is the first device to sport new, improved wifi and here’s some of the cool stuff that comes with the new tech, according to the announcement:

  • Orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA): effectively shares channels to increase network efficiency and lower latency for both uplink and downlink traffic in high demand environments
  • Multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO): allows more downlink data to be transferred at once and enables an access point to transmit data to a larger number of devices concurrently
  • 160 MHz channels: increases bandwidth to deliver greater performance with low latency
  • Target wake time (TWT): significantly improves battery life in Wi-Fi devices, such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation mode (1024-QAM): increases throughput in Wi-Fi devices by encoding more data in the same amount of spectrum
  • Transmit beamforming: enables higher data rates at a given range resulting in greater network capacity

In case you were still in any doubt about the excellence of Wi-Fi 6 and the need to participate in this certification programme, here are the obliging canned quotes from countless industry types.

“In addition to increased speed and capacity, Wi-Fi 6 will support the growing density of connected devices in the home, delivering lower latency, enhanced battery life, and better overall performance. Wi-Fi 6 helps guarantee that users get the most out of these new functionalities in complex environments where they cohabit with legacy devices will require smart management of the whole ecosystem. AirTies’ Smart Wi-Fi software and cloud-based management software will ensure that service providers maximize their investment in Wi-Fi 6 to meet the evolving needs of their customers. We look forward to supporting Wi-Fi Alliance and its new Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program.” – Metin Taskin, CTO of AirTies

“Wi-Fi is the primary connectivity method for billions of devices, users and things. We applaud Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program as it will provide users with confidence that their devices meet the highest standards for security and interoperability and that they will provide the best possible user experience. As device densities continue to climb, bandwidth needs continue to surge and sophisticated new security threats continue to emerge, it will be increasingly important for users to select devices that are certified to meet the market’s most exacting standards, so they can take advantage of the emerging, innovative, next-generation use cases that Wi-Fi 6 is enabling.” – Chuck Lukaszewski, vice president of wireless standards and strategy for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

“ASSIA’s mission is to develop technologies that improve reliability of wired and wireless network connections. ASSIA has built a large portfolio of wireless technologies that utilize Wi-Fi 6 today, and for Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 devices these ASSIA technologies bring significant gains in network performance as well as vendor neutral network management options. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 will help build a massive IoT ecosystem at a fraction of the cost of deploying licensed band equivalent systems. We look forward to being part of evolution during this exciting time!” – Tuncay Cil, Chief Strategy Officer, ASSIA

“With the growing number of connected personal and IoT devices pushing current Wi-Fi to its limits, Wi-Fi 6 ushers in a new era of networking performance, and the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification program ensures users get the best home Wi-Fi experience out of this amazing new technology. As a pioneer of the world’s first Wi-Fi 6 router and a rapidly expanding ecosystem of Wi-Fi 6 network adapters, motherboards, laptops and mini PCs, we at ASUS believe Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 is the answer for multi-device households and are happy to see the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification program from Wi-Fi Alliance is available now.” – said Tenglong Deng, General Manager, ASUS Networking and Wireless Devices Business Unit.

“Wi-Fi 6 is a game changer in unlicensed connectivity, offering consumers exactly what they are seeking – the fastest, most responsive and reliable Wi-Fi.” – JR Wilson, Vice President of Tower Strategy and Roaming, AT&T

“Wi-Fi 6 is a game changer for dense and congested environments, helping operators like Boingo facilitate a more seamless connected experience in large venues that include airports and stadiums. Higher data rates, better spectrum usage, and increased network capacity are among the standout features of Wi-Fi 6 and we’re excited to see the technology’s certification program take off.” – Dr. Derek Peterson, chief technology officer, Boingo

“Broadcom is thrilled to have three of our best-in-class devices included in the certification test bed for today’s official launch of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 — the BCM4375, BCM43698, and BCM43684. These Broadcom devices already power 10s of millions of Samsung Galaxy phones and routers around the world. Capable of supporting up to 160 MHz wide channels, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 devices offer consumers lower latency, better battery life and as yet unseen throughputs, all of which are critical for 5G services. As the full 6 GHz band is made available for unlicensed use – with multiple 160 MHz-wide channels — the Wi-Fi 6 consumer experience will be turbocharged for the gigabit home and AR/VR.” – Vijay Nagarajan, Vice President, Wireless Communications & Connectivity Division, Broadcom  

“Thanks to the work of Wi-Fi Alliance and the commitment of its members to interoperability, Wi-Fi has changed the world. Wi-Fi 6 represents a significant evolution of Wi-Fi, taking wireless connectivity to new heights and enabling new applications and use cases that will continue to shape the world we live in. As the rollout of Wi-Fi 6 accelerates, the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program will provide Cisco’s customers assurance that the network and user devices will interoperate as expected; maximizing the benefits for businesses, the economy and users – which is exactly what Wi-Fi has been doing for the last 20 years.” – Matt MacPherson, Wireless CTO, Cisco

“Our world is becoming increasingly hyper-connected, and what gets me really excited about Wi-Fi 6, beyond the huge improvements in capacity and performance is the support for 2.4 GHz band and the power consumption improvements. With Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification program, we can ensure peak performance for all devices with next generation WPA3 security, no matter the use case. Whether for a factory, a stadium, or an office building, Cisco Meraki customers can be confident that deploying a Wi-Fi 6 network will deliver a secure, simple and superlative experience.” – Jayanthi Srinivasan, Director of Product Management, Cisco Meraki

“Wi-Fi 6 will help us meet the demands of tomorrow’s connectivity, with increased speed delivered to numerous devices simultaneously. Offering lower latency, better range, higher capacity and improved battery life for devices, Wi-Fi 6 ushers in the next generation of the world’s predominant wireless networking technology. We believe that Wi-Fi 6 will open a vast number of new applications and possibilities for our business.” – Cole Reinwand, Comcast Cable Communications, XFINITY WiFi

“Ruckus has always been at the leading edge of new certified technologies from Wi-Fi Alliance, and we’re proud that our extensive collaboration with Wi-Fi Alliance has contributed to the successful launch of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6. By being one of the first to incorporate Wi-Fi 6 features, the Ruckus R750 access point is both among the first fully Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 products and a high-performance Wi-Fi 6 access point used in the Wi-Fi Alliance test bed for interoperability certification. We look forward to participating with Wi-Fi Alliance in this exciting next phase of Wi-Fi industry growth.” – Morgan Kurk, CTO at CommScope

“Cypress’ early Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 leadership underscores our commitment to market enablement with advanced automotive applications including BSS color mapping, support for scheduling, and high performance in congested environments. The high-data rates supported by Wi-Fi 6 will also enable efficient factory automation using over-the-air downloads on parallel manufacturing lines. Consumers will be able to enjoy uniform home-to-car experiences benefiting from robust, secure, and longer-range Wi-Fi 6 connections while maintaining backward-compatible Wi-Fi 5 IoT device connections already installed in their home networks.” – Brian Bedrosian, vice president of marketing, IoT Compute and Wireless Business Unit at Cypress

“Some hype is just noise — but some new technologies really do transform their market. By finally gaining a megaphone, Wi-Fi 6 is one of those technologies. In addition to providing added capacity and coverage to support more connected devices, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 access points have the potential to completely transform enterprises and end-user experiences, something Wi-Fi 6 compliant and Wi-Fi 6 compatible access points can never claim.” – Perry Correll, Director of Product Marketing, Extreme Networks

“Wi-Fi 6 incorporates many new technologies, such as OFDMA technology, which divides the WLAN channel into multiple narrower subchannels, reducing competition, backoff and network latency and improving network efficiency. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 guarantees the experience of these new technologies and continues to enhance the competitiveness and influence of Wi-Fi in the data transmission field.” – Joe Yu, Wireless Product director at H3C

“Wi-Fi 6 is a major step forward in the evolution of Wi-Fi. Not only does it bring higher maximum data rates, it also improves robustness in crowded Wi-Fi environments, creating a better user experience with a sustained level of performance for the user. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 brings significant benefits to new low-power markets such as IoT and wearables, enhancing the current Wi-Fi 5 products targeting these markets with improved power consumption, low data rates, and the addition of OFDMA to share spectrum efficiently.” – Richard Edgar, Senior Director of Product Management, Ensigma, Imagination Technologies

“Wi-Fi 6 is the greatest advancement to Wi-Fi in the last decade. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 ensures that products across the industry will live up to the full potential and deliver user experiences promised by Wi-Fi 6. Intel is honored that our leadership solutions for both client PC/IoT and home routers/gateways were selected for the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 test bed.” – Eric McLaughlin, GM, Wireless Solutions Group, Intel Corp.

“Wi-Fi 6 has already taken center stage in serving public hotspots like coffee shops and sports arenas as well as residential customers, where high data rate and efficient access control among users are strongly demanded.” – Jaehyung Koo, Vice President, KT

“As a leader in delivering new Wi-Fi connections and experiences to consumers worldwide, NETGEAR is thrilled to see the advancement of the Wi-Fi 6 certification program. With a broad range of Wi-Fi 6 routers via our Nighthawk performance Wi-Fi line, and a mesh Wi-Fi 6 system joining the Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi family, NETGEAR is committed to improving the way people live through the connections we make.” – David Henry, senior vice president of Connected Home Products for NETGEAR

“Quantenna is committed to providing an exceptional Wi-Fi user experience and is actively involved in the development and standardization process of Wi-Fi 6. With Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6, consumers can easily identify and be assured that the devices they get include advanced capabilities for quality and interoperability. We look forward to certifying our products that enhance next generation Wi-Fi use cases.” – Irvind Ghai, vice president of Marketing, Quantenna Connectivity Solutions Division at ON Semiconductor

“Wi-Fi 6 is a key development that brings end-users a superior roaming experience. It is a milestone for this technology which offers improved connectivity, especially in dense areas of population and means an overall enhanced roaming capacity.” – Cedric Gonin, International Carriers, Orange

“At Qualcomm Technologies, we’ve been heavily supporting the global transition to Wi-Fi 6 for several years and are happy to be a part of Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program. Qualcomm Technologies has shown its commitment in Wi-Fi 6 on the strength of our dogged pursuit and investment in the full potential of the new standard. We are excited to see the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program launching, as it’s yet another indicator of the broad industry readiness to further establish a fervent, growing ecosystem of Wi-Fi 6 networks and devices.” – Rahul Patel, senior vice president and general manager, connectivity, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

“Samsung is excited for the official launch of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6. High speed 5G services need Wi-Fi 6 and so do consumers who want to seamlessly share the moments they create on their mobile devices. As a leading innovator in smartphone technology, we made this a reality when we launched the Samsung Galaxy S10 – the world’s first Wi-Fi 6 phone – earlier this year. Today, we are proud to officially announce that the Galaxy Note10 is the world’s first Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 smartphone.” – Inkang Song, VP and Head of Technology Strategy Group of IT & Mobile Communications Division at Samsung Electronics

“The Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 program ensures that devices based on 802.11ax technology meet industry standards for interoperability and security, thereby delivering superior performance and better coverage to users experiencing Wi-Fi 6. In the meantime, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 includes advanced features, which provide devices with features of peak performance and low latency in smart home or IoT scenarios, ensuring a fast, flexible and connected Wi-Fi ecosystem.” – John Yin, Marketing Manager, TP-Link

“Wi-Fi 6, as the newest generation of Wi-Fi technology, can bring users higher throughput, lower latency, lower power consumption, and also enhance network efficiency.  As an important member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, Xiaomi is committed to supporting Wi-Fi 6 technology in our applications, as well as engaging more deeply in Wi-Fi 6 certification, to bring our global users more and higher quality Wi-Fi 6 products.” Baoqiu Cui, Vice President of Xiaomi Corporation, Chairman of Technical Committee

Qualcomm makes its Wi-Fi 6 move

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm wants a bigger piece of the wifi action and reckons the advent of the next generation of technology is a good opportunity to grab it.

At a recent event in San Francisco devoted entirely to Wi-Fi 6, Qualcomm launched a family of Wi-Fi 6 platforms branded the Networking Pro Series. There are four platforms, to be precise, named 1200, 800, 600, and 400, that are distinguished as follows:

qualcomm wifi 6 products

Qualcomm has been banging on about Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax as it was known before the Wi-Fi Alliance belatedly saw sense on nomenclature), for years, so this move is no great surprise. The big improvement isn’t so much about data rates but the number of devices a given router can support – i.e. capacity, as well as a bunch of other less obvious enhancements.

“Wi-Fi 6 is a transformational reimagining of how Wi-Fi works, a leap forward arriving alongside 5G and designed to accommodate the massive surge of connected devices,” said Nick Kucharewski, GM of wireless infrastructure and networking at Qualcomm. “The Qualcomm Networking Pro Series platforms raise the bar for the management of the ever-growing number of connected devices, the variation and complexity of those devices’ data needs, and the quality of the overall connectivity experiences they deliver.”

“The transformative nature of Wi-Fi 6 will have a deep impact across all categories of connected devices and environments,” said Edgar Figueroa, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance. “We’re going to witness dynamic changes in Wi-Fi with the inclusion of advanced features in Wi-Fi 6 which will drive improved network capacity, better performance and increased speeds.”

As well as potentially helping it grab wifi router market share from the likes of Broadcom and Cisco, Qualcomm reckons its focus on Wi-Fi 6 can help it in other markets such as connected car and IoT. It could also do a lot to proliferate the mesh technology that Qualcomm has also been very keen to promote.