As they ponder the future of the 6 GHz band, policymakers need a clear view of how we connect today.

The coming months could prove pivotal to the future of wireless connectivity in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). In May and June, the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) sub-group on WRC (which advises the European Commission) and the Arab Spectrum Management Group will both hold key meetings. One of the topics for discussion will be Agenda Item 1.2 for WRC-23, which considers possible IMT identification for 6425 – 7025 MHz for ITU Region 1 and 7025 – 7125 MHz globally (if ongoing studies show that coexistence with incumbent services in this band is feasible).

Such an identification could result in this key chunk of spectrum being unavailable for Wi-Fi in many countries. That would curb the positive impact of Wi-Fi 6 on economies and societies across the world. Before they take such a drastic step, policymakers and regulators need to have all the facts at their fingertips. To that end, on behalf of companies in the Wi-Fi ecosystem, we have pulled together a Q&A document that addresses the key questions about the future of the 6 GHz band and the role of Wi-Fi in enabling people to be reliably and cost-effectively connected to broadband.

Drawing on figures from regulators, the document highlights that the vast majority of Internet traffic travels to end-devices via Wi-Fi. For example, in 2021 almost 90% of Internet traffic in Germany was transmitted over Wi-Fi and just 5% over mobile networks. Across the world, Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous, enabling it to benefit from enormous economies of scale. More than 18 billion Wi-Fi devices will be in use in 2022 (360 times as many as in 2003 – when the 5 GHz band was made licence-exempt).

Why the full 1200 MHz needs to be licence-exempt

With so many Wi-Fi devices being deployed, licence-exempt spectrum can get congested. ASSIA, a leading connectivity management company, has highlighted how congestion in both the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz bands is impacting quality of service. Unfortunately, the 480 MHz of licence-exempt spectrum now becoming available in the lower 6 GHz band won’t be enough to make up the shortfall. As our reliance on Wi-Fi continues to grow, there is a clear need to make the full 1200 MHz in the 5925-7125 MHz band available on a licence-exempt basis.

Brazil, Canada, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the U.S. have all done exactly that. And their citizens are beginning to reap the benefits offered by Wi-Fi 6E – the name for Wi-Fi 6 products capable of operating in the 6 GHz band. These devices benefit from very fast and very responsive connectivity, as well as much greater capacity.

As the market grows, economies of scale are kicking in, ensuring that Wi-Fi 6E will be highly affordable. The Wi-Fi Alliance predicts that more than 350 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will enter the market in 2022, while Grand View Research forecasts that almost 4 billion Wi-Fi 6E chipsets will be shipped globally in 2028.

As with previous generations of Wi-Fi, the technology is set to be included in almost every phone, tablet and laptop, as well as other appliances such as printers, televisions, cameras and wearables. There are now almost 200 client devices and access points supporting Wi-Fi 6E, including more than 70 laptop models, dozens of smartphones, and several smart televisions.

These Wi-Fi 6E devices can harness the entire 6 GHz band today, but only in places where the spectrum is available. As we become increasingly reliant on digital products and services, now is the time to realise the full potential of Wi-Fi 6E to provide high-performance, low-cost connectivity to billions of devices.

This blog post provides a taste of the many facts and rich contextual information contained in the Q&A document, which covers 12 of the most frequently asked questions on the topic. To take a look, please click here.

Pasquale Cataldi is Associate Director at Policy Impact Partners (PIP), a global consultancy focused on connectivity and digital policy issues, with a particular focus on advocating policies and conducting analysis that promote the efficient utilization of radio frequency spectrum. PIP works on behalf of several companies in the Wi-Fi ecosystem to raise awareness of the importance of Wi-Fi connectivity and the need for a balanced regulatory approach between license-exempt and licensed spectrum to address the needs of all stakeholders involved.