New analysis further strengthens the case for making the full 6 GHz band licence-exempt.
As Internet traffic rises inexorably, the case for making the full 6 GHz band available for licence-exempt use is becoming stronger and stronger. When it comes to getting hundreds of millions of people and machines online quickly and easily, Wi-Fi can deliver much greater value for money than mobile networks, according to two new reports published by the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance.
In Germany, in 2021, for example, Wi-Fi networks carried 32 times as much traffic per MHz of spectrum as cellular/IMT (International Mobile Telecommunications) networks. Drawing on figures from Germany’s regulator Bundesnetzagentur, the report How do Europeans connect to the Internet? explains that mobile networks in Germany delivered 5.2 GB per Hz of spectrum allocated, while Wi-Fi (operating exclusively in the 2.4 GHz and
5 GHz bands during 2021), delivered approximately 167 GB per Hz. As fixed network traffic continues to grow rapidly, Wi-Fi will have to work even harder in future.
The aforementioned figures reflect the fact that the vast majority of Internet access takes place indoors –where Wi-Fi is the connectivity technology of choice. For that reason, Wi-Fi networks operating in the upper 6 GHz band will have a much greater impact and be far more cost–effective than IMT networks operating at these frequencies, according to the report Socio-economic benefits of IMT versus RLAN in the 6425-7125 MHz band in Europe. The technical analysis in this report found that Wi-Fi networks with access to the full 6 GHz band would support three to four times as many simultaneous users as existing Wi-Fi networks.
For households and enterprises alike, that could be a game changer. The report found the additional spectrum would bring about capacity and quality of service improvements that will bring real benefits for a multitude of sectors, in particular construction, manufacturing, education, health care and public services.
The report puts the deployment costs for Wi-Fi in the full 6 GHz band at between €9.8 billion and €13.3 billion across the EU – less than 20% of the
€73 billion cost of deploying IMT networks in the 6 GHz band in densely populated urban areas (the report didn’t consider nationwide deployments because of the risks of IMT interfering with incumbent services). Even if the upper 6 GHz band was allocated to IMT, there is unlikely to be any end-user equipment available until the end of this decade. By contrast, there are already more than 500 Wi-Fi devices certified for operation in the 6 GHz band, and a total of 350 million Wi-Fi 6E products are expected to be shipped in 2022.
In short, reserving or allocating the upper 6 GHz band to IMT would be counterproductive for overall connectivity and jeopardize the goals of Europe’s Digital Decade.
Wi-Fi has much more to give
With access to the full 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band, Wi-Fi could employ multiple non-overlapping channels of 160 MHz and 320 MHz bandwidth. Access to these wider channels would increase spectrum efficiency, while maintaining the ability to share spectrum with incumbents and other licence-exempt deployments. Next generation Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 7, will employ 320 MHz channels to further improve latency, throughput, reliability, and quality of service.
For enterprise applications (such as large public venues, healthcare, education, hospitality, logistics, and manufacturing), more channels and channel widths (from 20 MHz – 320 MHz) will enable performance enhancements and new services and architectures. Examples include the implementation of multi-layer operation, service segmentation and prioritisation, context-aware wireless networks, and hyper-aware access points.
Unlike previous generations of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6/6E and Wi-Fi 7 are based on OFDMA technology, enabling them to achieve very high quality of service (QoS) levels, particularly in managed networks. In other words, Wi-Fi has evolved to a point where it can – with access to sufficient spectrum – address the most demanding enterprise use cases.
Even with the limited licence-exempt spectrum available today, Wi-Fi is the engine of the digital economy. As the report ‘How do Europeans connect to the Internet?’ notes, Wi-Fi handles over 90% of fixed network traffic, i.e. the vast majority of Internet traffic in Europe (mobile networks only deliver traffic equivalent to 5% of the fixed network traffic).
If governments make the full 6 GHz band available for licence-exempt use, Wi-Fi will be able to dramatically improve the quality of service of Internet access in Europe without requiring any new dedicated spectrum. That amounts to a much more efficient use of the spectrum than would be possible with mobile networks.
 Researched and written for the DSA by LS Telcom and Valdani Vicari & Associati.
 To enable IMT services to co-exist incumbent fixed and fixed satellite services in the upper 6 GHz band will likely require mitigation techniques that would limit the deployment of IMT in this band.
 Adame, T.; Carrascosa-Zamacois, M.; Bellalta, B.; Time-Sensitive Networking in IEEE 802.11be: On the Way to Low-Latency WiFi 7; Sensors 2021.
Senior Manager, Spectrum Management and Regulatory Affairs, EMEA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.