6 GHz Spectrum Sharing Technology Necessary for US and Europe Innovation
By Martha Suarez and Dave Wright
According to Cisco, more than half of the Internet connections start or end by a WiFi connection, and this is expected to only increase as more of the world becomes connected. However, all of this demand has resulted in congestion of the license-exempt mid-band spectrum which WiFi relies upon. In fact, since the World Radiocommunication Conference in 200,3 no new mid-band spectrum has been made available for WiFi despite the exponential growth in the data traffic. (Consider that the modern smartphone was introduced in 2007 – and how the world has changed since then.)
Furthermore, current WiFi spectrum can’t support the wider channels needed for newer applications and services, including Industrial IoT, AR, VR, and high-density deployments, to name a few. WiFi’s evolution to wider channels parallels the move from cellular LTE to 5G, where channel widths are also increasing by 4x or more.
License-exempt access to the 6 GHz band is required to meet this unprecedented demand and enable innovative use cases. With it, comes the opportunity for more effective spectrum use allowing support for new applications and laying the foundations for innovation.
Innovation And Protection
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and several European spectrum authorities have studied a variety of mitigation techniques and proposed rules for the protection of incumbent services, allowing for those existing services to grow while meeting the demand for wireless broadband services.
By optimizing the use of 6 GHz and allowing unlicensed spectrum access, it can be opened for use by WiFi devices without creating harmful interference, ensuring that incumbent services are protected and given room to thrive and grow within the band. This results in more opportunity for connectivity through unlicensed operations across the 6 GHz band, promotes the development of cutting-edge technology, and contributes an estimated global economic impact of around US$4.9 trillion by 2025.
Regarding the available equipment ecosystem, the WiFi Alliance launched the WiFi 6E certification program for WiFi 6 devices operating in the 6 GHz band. There is now a variety of consumer, residential, Enterprise, and IoT equipment certified for WiFi 6E, both infrastructure and clients. The Wi-Fi Alliance forecasts that WiFi 6E devices shipments will more than double in 2022 from approximately 300 million in 2021.
6 GHz Advancements In The US
In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission authorized unlicensed spectrum access to the entire 6 GHz band (5925-7125 MHz) across the USA, providing Americans with low-cost wireless connectivity and increasing the current amount of spectrum available for WiFi by nearly a factor of five. This successfully facilitates the delivery of broadband to rural and underserved areas of the country while eliminating the risk of interference with incumbents.
The initial FCC approval covered Low Power Indoor (LPI) WiFi operations. To make full use of the 6 GHz band, Automated Frequency Control (AFC) spectrum sharing technology will soon be made available in the US. The introduction of AFC systems will allow for Standard Power (SP) WiFi operations, enabling both outdoor and higher power deployments. Key markets for Standard Power WiFi include transport & logistics, education, hospitality, agriculture, large public venues, and municipal deployments. In a very welcomed move, the FCC recently unveiled the process it will use to approve AFC systems for the US market.
AFC Standardization is also progressing quickly by the Wi-Fi Alliance with draft 1.0 of the AFC System Device Interface (SDI) specification which specifies the signalling protocol and messages between an AFC system and SP devices. The Wi-Fi Alliance has also developed AFC regulatory compliance tests which will help AFC systems and devices to become available and certified in countries around the world.
6 GHz Advancements In Europe
Currently, existing WiFi spectrum is overburdened in many regions across Europe, carrying over 70% of data traffic and causing users to experience congestion during peak hours. The economic value for the European Union that is generated by WiFi is estimated to reach US$637 billion (€534 billion) in 2025. By 2025, we are expected to face a spectrum shortfall of up to 1.6 GHz in the mid-frequency range that will limit the performance and availability of broadband, directly impacting both residential and corporate networks. Also of note, the WiFi4EU initiative aims to provide high-quality Internet access to citizens and visitors across the EU via free of charge WiFi hotspots in public spaces such as parks, squares, administrations, libraries, and health centres; a step in the right direction towards delivering full-coverage, uninterrupted service. However, it has also revealed a strong local demand for the expansion of WiFi services in order to foster the local e-commerce economy, support tourism, and increase the availability of local public services to citizens.
With European demand for wireless broadband ever-growing, it is crucial to identify new mid-band spectrum for unlicensed access. The European Commission took an important first step with its implementing decision to open the lower portion of 6 GHz (5945-6425 MHz) for Low Power Indoor and Very Low Power (VLP) license-exempt operation. LPI use is intended to be used in domestic or commercial buildings and VLP usage is intended to cover portable short-range applications for small area direct communications. By next enacting extending the sharing conditions to the full 1200 MHz of the 6 GHz band for license exempt operations, the upper 700 MHz of the band can be freed for use by WiFi and other services, while ensuring that incumbent services are protected and given room to thrive and grow. This move would align Europe with the US, Canada, Brazil, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, and other countries (representing nearly 42% of global GDP) who have opened or are considering opening the full 1200 MHz for license exempt access. Such global harmonization is incredibly powerful in both driving adoption and creating mass market economics and will help realize the estimated global economic impact from WiFi of $3.41 trillion by 2023.
Right now, Europe has a critical opportunity to enable unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band, improving connectivity in the home, at work, and in public spaces. This will drive productivity, economic growth, and societal development, ensuring that WiFi networks meet European citizens’ requirements, both now and for the next decade. In fact, some European spectrum authorities and regulators are currently in discussions about the possibility of starting coexistence studies between RLAN and incumbents in the upper 6 GHz (6425-7125 MHz) band in CEPT. In doing so, it would grant the opportunity for incumbent growth while meeting rising demands for unlicensed wireless broadband services.
The Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) strongly advocates that the entire 6 GHz band (5925-7125 MHz) be made available for licence-exempt operations in a technology neutral manner while protecting existing incumbents in the band. In addition, DSA supports the adoption of more flexible spectrum frameworks in the mid-band to give additional capacity to support local 5G, as well as a wider ecosystem. The opportunities made possible by spectrum sharing go beyond the economy, facilitating digital inclusion and the evolution of the ICT ecosystem.
References and Notes
Martha Suárez is President, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA). She has more than 11 years of experience in dynamic spectrum sharing and regulatory reform. For more information, please email [email protected] or visit dynamicspectrumalliance.org. Follow Dr. Suarez on Twitter @MarthaLSuarez. Follow Dynamic Spectrum Alliance on Twitter @DynamicSpectrum.
Dave Wright is President of the OnGo Alliance. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecom, mobile, and wireless industry, and played an instrumental role in the formation of the OnGo Alliance. For more information, please email [email protected] or visit ongoalliance.org. You can also follow us on Twitter @OnGoWireless.