A closer look at where select countries stand in opening up 6 GHz for unlicensed Wi-Fi
Last April, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved opening up the 6 GHz frequency band for unlicensed use by Wi-Fi 6 technology, a decision many called monumental and historic.
The ability to leverage the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi operation — referred to as Wi-Fi 6E — will deliver faster connectivity speeds and improved capacity when compared to both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, making it ideal for smartphones, tablets, laptops and, perhaps most exciting, virtual/augmented devices. Further, the MU-MIMO capabilities of 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6, combined with 6 GHz will create a number of use cases both in the home and in the enterprise space.
“Extending Wi-Fi into the 6GHz spectrum band can provide more Wi-Fi capacity than all the other bands put together,” Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) CEO Tiago Rodrigues said in April. “What’s more, using Wi-Fi 6 technology in the extended will deliver higher speeds, low latency and service levels that are equivalent to 5G networks and be able to support the widespread, low-cost, use of advanced business, industrial and consumer applications.”
“In terms of the capability and capacity of networks, Wi-Fi 6E, will rewrite the rules of what is possible,” he added.
Technology manufacturers were particularly excited about Wi-Fi 6E with chipmakers like Broadcom and Qualcomm quick to develop 6E chips month before the new technology was certified. In fact, in a conversation with RCR Wireless News back in May, Qualcomm’s Senior VP and GM of Connectivity Rahul Patel said the company is “very excited about Wi-Fi 6E. For us and our customers, we all are very enthusiastic and eager to launch [compatible devices]as quickly as possible.”
In addition, Patel claimed that at the time, Qualcomm already had more than 70 Wi-Fi 6-enabled devices and an additional 200 or so access points (APs) and gateway designs.
Then, in December 2020, the FCC certified the first Wi-Fi 6E device, a low-power indoor transmitter from Broadcom, authorized by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology. In response to the news, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement, calling the authorization “an exciting glimpse of America’s Wi-Fi future.”
The most recent milestone in Wi-Fi 6E’s journey was its January certification by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The certification, according to the alliance’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Kevin Robinson, will ensure device interoperability and cutting-edge WPA 3 security features.
Momentum around Wi-Fi 6E has been picking up speed globally as we move into 2021, with a number of additional countries, including the U.K., Chile, South Korea, and more recently, the United Arab Emirates, already releasing 6 GHz spectrum for unlicensed Wi-Fi use. Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Taiwan, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Jordan are among a list of other countries currently initiating similar efforts.
Below is a closer look at where select countries stand in opening up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi use.
The U.K. regulator Ofcom freed up 500 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band, at 5925-6425 MHz, for unlicensed indoor Wi-Fi and low-power outdoor Wi-Fi usage in July, making it the second country in the world to do so.
While less than the U.S.’s staggering 1.2 gigahertz-wide spectrum release, the 500 MHz of new Wi-Fi spectrum was still considered a huge step forward for the U.K.’s wireless industry. The new spectrum will accommodate three new 160 MHz Wi-Fi channels or up to 24 new 20 MHz Wi-Fi at an EIRP of 250 mW.
Ofcom also removed the Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) requirements, which force routers to scan for radars, for indoor Wi-Fi (up to 200mW) in the 5.8 GHz band (5725-5850 MHz). The band is “lightly used”, it said, and DFS adds cost to and impedes performance of Wi-Fi equipment.
“We expect this to make the 5.8 GHz band more useable for Wi-Fi services and reduce congestion in other channels,” Ofcom said in a statement.
South Korea approved 1.2 gigahertz of spectrum in the 6GHz band, at the 5,925 MHz to 7,125 MHz range, for unlicensed Wi-Fi use in October 2020. Like the U.S., South Korea made the entire 6 GHz band available for free indoor use.
When the country’s Ministry of Science performed 6 GHz Wi-Fi testing, it found that wireless speeds were capable of reaching 2.1 Gbps, which is five times faster than the currently available Wi-Fi speeds.
In addition, spectrum in the 5,925 MHz-6,455 MHz range will also be usable for device-to-device connections, regardless if it is indoors or outdoors.
Chile and other South/Central American countries
In October, Chile joined the growing list of countries to release the entire 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi and in doing so, became the first country in South America to release the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi and only the third country to release the full 1.2 gigahertz.
In a slight deviation from the FCC, Chile appears to be permitting a maximum EIRP of 1 W (30 dBm) for indoor use APs. Additional APs restrictions for using the band include the use of internal batteries and external or removable antennas.
While Chile is currently the only country in the region to have released the 6 GHz spectrum, Peru and Brazil are expected to follow suite soon enough. In Peru, for example, the Ministry of Transport and Communications has released a document that includes the delicensing of the 6 GHz band.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, the country’s regulator Anatel in May took a critical step towards Wi-Fi use in 6 GHz when it approved a revision of the “Restricted Radiation Radiocommunication Equipment Regulation” to include the possibility of using the 6 GHz frequency bands for Wi-Fi 6 equipment, according to Brazil’s Teletime.
There has also been some suggestion that Colombia and Mexico have also been making some progression towards 6 GHz spectrum reallocation.