With the use of Wi-Fi skyrocketing across the nation, the FCC is taking action to increase network speeds and reduce congestion through a new spectrum allocation, FCC Chairman Genachowski told the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show. The first steps to reallocate up to 195 megahertz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band will be taken this month in what will be the largest block of unlicensed spectrum to be made available for Wi-Fi since 2003.
Genachowski cited congestion at major hubs, such as airports, convention centers and large conference gatherings as the driver for the additional frequencies. The allocation increases the unlicensed spectrum available for next generation gigabit Wi-Fi, which will use the IEEE-developed 802.11ac standard.
“The FCC is moving to bring increased speed and capacity to Wi-Fi networks by increasing the amount of unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi,” Genachowski said. “As this spectrum comes on line, we expect it to relieve congested Wi-Fi networks at major hubs like convention centers and airports.”
The FCC announcement was applauded by the Wi-Fi Alliance, noting that the analyst firm ABI Research forecasts the annual number of Wi-Fi devices shipped globally will reach 3 billion by 2016, compared to 1.5 billion shipments in 2012.
“With phenomenal growth like that, it’s easy to see why additional spectrum is needed,” Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director, said in a prepared release. “By providing additional spectrum, and thereby creating a contiguous spectrum swath for Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band, the FCC will ensure that the most value is extracted for the greatest number of users in this spectral band.”
The 802.11ac standard can achieve speeds up to 1.35 gigabits per second, according to a white paper by NetGear, while the most powerful 802.11n devices currently operate at a maximum of 450 megabits per second. The new standard provides the capability to maintain a higher level of performance at any range, compared with its predecessors.
A majority of devices use the 2.4 GHz band, which causes the network congestion, according to Bill Kish, Ruckus Wireless co-founder and CTO, on the company’s website. The best thing about 802.11ac, Kish said, is that it only uses the 5 GHz band, which will relieve the pressure from 2.4 GHz. Talk about gigabit speeds, however, may be hype, from the enterprise standpoint, he added.
Because the 5 GHz band is already used by both federal and non-federal entities, the effort to reallocate the band to unlicensed status will require significant collaboration with other federal agencies. Genachowski said the FCC will move expeditiously to complete the proceeding.