By Gagandeep Kaur, Wi-Fi NOW Staff Writer
Ajit Pai – himself a son of Indian immigrants to the US and today FCC Chairman – delivered strong support for Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band at a Broadband India Forum event (webinar) celebrating World Wi-Fi Day.
Wi-Fi plays a critical role in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) strategy to ensure that the US citizens continue to remain connected during the lockdown.
The Internet is the critical link for people to continue their social and commercial activities as they maintain social distancing. This has led to a massive increase in the use of digital tools and platforms. Further, it has also revived the digital divide debate. The FCC points out that Wi-Fi is going to be a key technology in ensuring access to Internet during the lockdown and for bridging the digital divide.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai elaborated on the Commission’s policies during a webinar – organised by Broadband India Forum on June 19 – celebrating World Wi-Fi Day. The organisation’s release of 6 GHz to Wi-Fi is the most significant initiative in this regard. India is also considering opening up of 6 GHz for Wi-Fi and the US experience will play a critical role in India’s final decision.
The “big deal”
“By doing this [making 6 GHz band available for Wi-Fi], we are creating a massive 1200 MHz testbed for innovators and innovation. This is a big deal, we are effectively increasing the amount of mid-band spectrum available for Wi-Fi by almost a factor of five. All 1200 MHz of this spectrum will be available for indoor-only low power use without the added complexity of database coordination,” said Pai.
The FCC is also making the two sub-band segments – in total 850 MHz – available for use indoors and outdoors at standard power. “Going big means allowing unprecedented 160 and 320 MHz channels for Wi-Fi. This will dramatically ease spectrum capacity as a constraint on innovation and open the door to new high-bandwidth applications,” he elaborated.
Ajit Pai believes the new 6 GHz spectrum policy will play a significant role in the growth of the Internet of Things for connecting appliances, machines, meters, wearables, smart televisions, and industrial sensors for manufacturing, he said.
Besides this landmark initiative, the FCC has requested that Wi-Fi hotspots in the US be opened. These hotspots allow American citizens without access to broadband to remain connected during the lockdown. US cableco Comcast announced recently it would offer free access to its 1.5 million public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country until the end of the year.
Setting the building blocks
Still the FCC is not done with Wi-Fi just yet and opening up the 6 GHz band is just one of the many Wi-Fi-related steps the US regulator is taking to bridge the digital divide and open up for innovation.
On April 23 the Commission also voted in favour of exploring the introduction of very low-power (VLP) devices in the 6 GHz band. This could enable the advent of short-range ‘personal area network’ technologies featuring low latency, high capacity, and all-day battery life.
“We don’t really know what this would lead to. And that’s kind of the point with unlicensed innovation. We want to set the building blocks in place so that engineers and technologists can figure out what it could mean for consumers,” said Ajit Pai at the event.
A fresh look at 5.9 GHz
The FCC is also reconsidering the use of 5.9 GHz frequency band. It was allocated in 1999 for Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) to enable vehicle-related communications. However, it didn’t live up to its promise. The FCC’s initial statement on reopening of the case for 5.9 GHz Wi-Fi was delivered by Pai at the 2019 edition of Wi-Fi NOW USA in Washington DC last May.
The Commission is now proposing to make the lower 45 MHz band available for unlicensed use like Wi-Fi while dedicating the upper 20 MHz for C-V2X, vehicle communications technology. The remaining 10 MHz could be allocated to C-V2X or DSRC, Ajit Pai said.
“Thanks to its neighbour, this spectrum in the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band would punch above its weight. The adjacent 5.725-to-5.850 GHz band is currently available for unlicensed operations in the US, making this 45 megahertz sub-band ideally suited for unlicensed use. Having more contiguous spectrum here is essential for the larger channels needed to support innovative use cases,” said Pai.
The Commission has granted Special Temporary Authority to over 150 broadband providers to use the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band, to meet the connectivity challenges in the rural areas during the time of the lockdown. Together, these initiatives help the Americans to stay connected and to use broadband to open up new opportunities for them during these times, Pai said.
“Multiple fixed wireless providers that are being allowed to use the 5.9 GHz band report that it has enabled faster speeds, increased coverage, and expanded network bandwidth… And they reinforce my belief that the best course for the United States is to dedicate the lower 45 MHz of the band exclusively for unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi,” Ajit Pai said.
Ajit Pai suggested that “Wi-Fi’s most important application might simply be keeping us connected to our families and friends, as well as the outside world. That’s been true during the pandemic. It was true before. And it will be true once this emergency is over, which will hopefully be soon.”