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Ofcom frees up 6GHz spectrum for ultrafast Wi-Fi

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Britain's communications regulator has said it will free up the spectrum needed to enable Wi-Fi to be broadcast on super-fast, low-latency 6GHz bands.

The new spectrum allocation is particularly suited to very low latency applications like wireless virtual or augmented reality as well as those with high data usage like ultra-high-definition video streaming.

Modern Wi-Fi routers typically contain the option for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, with the former better at penetrating walls and broadcasting further, while the latter has improved speeds and latency.

The 6GHz option, which is expected to be available in commercial routers from the end of this year under the branding Wi-Fi 6e, is even faster than current 5GHz implementations but suffers from worse penetration of different materials.

It is therefore particularly suited to outdoor environments and those where lots of people may be using large quantities of data at the same time, such as sports or music venues.

While the chunk of spectrum is already in use by some legacy applications such as communication between cell towers, its poor ability to transmit through walls is actually an asset as it should prevent clashes with pre-existing infrastructure.

The 6GHz utilisation is included in the latest generation Wi-Fi 6 spec which is designed to allow more devices to connect at one time and has enhanced data handling to ensure that heavy usage from one user will not negatively impact others on the network.

In addition to the router, connecting devices will need to have the hardware to access 6GHz networks; flagship smartphones are expected to be compatible from next year with lower-range devices to follow.

A spokesperson for BT said: “BT fully supports Ofcom’s proposal to make this band available for Wi-Fi. This is an important step to avoid future congestion and interference of Wi-Fi systems in areas of very high traffic density and would promote efficient and optimal use of the 5,925 –6,425 MHz band.

“This band will be particularly useful with the introduction of Wi-Fi 6.”

Interview with Kevin Robinson, Senior VP at Wi-Fi Alliance

“The current situation we’re in has created a surge in traffic that’s moving over Wi-Fi and it’s helped not just the average person, but also regulators truly appreciate what a day without Wi-Fi might look like.

“The concern that the Wi-Fi industry has highlighted for the last several years, is that usage is growing significantly. In the UK for example, there’s going to be more than half a billion Wi-Fi enabled devices by 2023 and that demand is outpacing spectrum capacity.

“Some time ago the Wi-Fi alliance did a spectrum needs study that projected that if you look at the current trends and demand for data, with more than half of all internet traffic going over Wi-Fi, more spectrum was found to be very much essential.

“6GHz has been a heavy focus for the Wi Fi industry because it offers a solution that meets this insatiable demand for data.

“With 6GHz, because you have more spectrum, people’s networks can essentially spread out a bit, you’re having less contention with other networks.

“Even with the global pandemic, the Wi-Fi industry has been making significant investments on Wi-Fi 6e for some time, even before the regulatory picture was fully formed.

“You can expect that Wi-Fi 6e access points will initially will start moving into the market in the fourth quarter of this year.

“In early 2021, you’re going to see Wi Fi 6e in handsets in the US, currently European regulators are still finalising the regulations around unlicensed operation in in Europe.

“The rules are being developed to protect the incumbents that are [already using the spectrum]. Today it’s often used for fixed microwave links from one cell tower to another.

“Very rigorous studies have been carried out in the US that really demonstrate that buildings can generally attenuate the signal, or block the signal enough so that there’s no need for something like frequency coordination when you’re indoors.”

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