Will consumers get access to more Wi-Fi? Unlicensed bands have one big challenge when it comes to regulation: Setting spectrum free for Wi-Fi produces exactly zero in government revenue. Compare this to the billions of dollars governments routinely cash in on auctioning off new licensed bands.
Fortunately, regulators are beginning to recognise the huge economic value of unlicensed bands. And across Europe and in America, regulators are right now taking steps to make more Wi-Fi available. That is – of course – fantastic news for the Wi-Fi industry. Here’s a short news roundup:
What the FCC is doing in the USA
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (whom I had the pleasure of interviewing on stage at the Wi-Fi NOW conference in Washington DC) estimates that the economic value of Wi-Fi in America alone is some $140 billion a year. She’s teaming up with Republican colleagues to push for more Wi-Fi spectrum.
The FCC is taking steps to test the viability of sharing the 5.9 GHz band with its incumbent user, the US Department of Transportation. If the parties & the FCC can agree on a sharing scheme, there’s 80 MHz more Wi-Fi spectrum to be had at the top end of 5 GHz. That’s a pretty sizeable chunk. And there is a good chance that the FCC could rule on this in 2017.
Rosenworcel has also introduced the concept of a ‘Wi-Fi dividend’. The idea is to ensure that more unlicensed spectrum is allocated in tandem with any new licensed bands.
Above: Interviewing FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel at Wi-Fi NOW USA in April 2016
Ofcom (UK) pushes for more 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum
The value of Wi-Fi is also not lost on UK regulator Ofcom. In a recent report (available here) Ofcom has set a short-term goal of releasing another 125 MHz of unlicensed spectrum (5725-5850 MHz) and is taking a hard look at releasing a couple of hundred more MHz in the 5 GHz band in the longer term.
A new 125 MHz allocation would (together with existing bands) allow for two 80 MHz bonded channels in 5 GHz and set the UK at par with the USA on peak Wi-Fi performance. Ofcom is also looking at removing outdoor restrictions on the 5150-5350 MHz band – and that could be a big boost for City Wi-Fi networks in the UK in the longer term.
Finally: Setting Wi-Fi free in Germany
Free public venue Wi-Fi has been hard to find in Germany because of a horrific piece of legislation threatening to hold venue owners liable for piracy and other on-line criminal acts perpetrated by individuals while using venue Wi-Fi networks.
Now it seems that German legislators are finally on track to do away with that law as reported here by Fortune. According to Fortune’s news report, the abolition of the liability rule could spread to all of Europe based on a pending a ruling by the European Union’s top court.
The bottom line? Regulators and legislators are right now taking real action to support more Wi-Fi for everyone, everywhere. I guess I don’t have to tell you that at Wi-Fi NOW, we’re delighted.