More unlicensed spectrum on the way

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Super-sized WiFi too.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a big step towards fulfilling a promise that Chairman Julius Genachowski made at CES in Las Vegas last month. Yesterday, commissioners voted unanimously to start the process of opening up 195 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz range to unlicensed uses such as WiFi. (H/T to UCSC’s Jim Warner for tipping me off).

“WiFi congestion is a very real and growing problem,” Genachowski said. “Like licensed spectrum, demand for unlicensed spectrum threatens to outpace supply. The core challenge is the dramatically increased use of wireless devices, which require spectrum.”

The proposal under consideration would open up the 5.35 to 5.47 GHz and 5.85 to 5.925 GHz bands to unlicensed users. It’s not just about more bandwidth. The move would also bridge current allocations and create a contiguous unlicensed band from 5.15 to 5.925 GHz, opening the door to wider WiFi channels and faster speeds.

“What excites me about today’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is that we are building on these past successes and using spectrum ideally suited for unlicensed use,” said Commissioner Ajit Pai. “Enhancing the contiguity and size of the 5 GHz blocks contemplated in the item should allow wider channels for higher bandwidth transmissions. For example, a 160 MHz-wide channel could deliver 1 gigabit of data per second. That’s Super Wi-Fi.”

If eventually approved, the new rules would have to allow for frequency sharing with some licensed users, so different restrictions on metrics like power and antenna characteristics would likely be placed on different part of the new band. But that’s for manufacturers and standards groups, like IEEE, to work out.

Full text of the notice is here.