Why we need 6 GHz Wi-Fi to support 5G networks
Wi-Fi has been providing critical connectivity alongside cellular deployments for decades. And, says Alex Roytblat, senior director of Worldwide Regulatory Affairs at Wi-Fi Alliance, it will continue to do so for 5G deployments, which are now offered by several of the UK’s network providers including EE and O2.
According to GSMA Intelligence, 5G networks will cover 40% of the global population by 2025. But as a result of the coronavirus, the percentage of time British smartphone users are spending on Wi-Fi has significantly increased, with recent data showing time on Wi-Fi rising week-over-week. So, even as 5G networks are deployed, Wi-Fi will continue to support a majority of data traffic over carrier networks, and there is no doubt that the demand for unlicensed spectrum to support Wi-Fi user connectivity will continue to rise.
Wi-Fi and 5G will therefore both have their own unique role to play in next generation connectivity, and both will be critical to support changing business and consumer habits that have been exemplified by the current coronavirus pandemic.
While it may seem contradictory, extending Wi-Fi operation in 6 GHz unlicensed spectrum, known as Wi-Fi 6E, will help accelerate the UK’s timeline to widespread deployment of 5G. The complementary nature of the two working together will bring faster speeds, greater bandwidth, and improved latency to consumers around the UK, no matter where they are. Ultimately, the availability of 6 GHz for Wi-Fi in the UK will enable the country to reap more benefits from 5G deployments.
The indoor, outdoor conundrum
5G networks are significantly precluded by walls. Wi-Fi is therefore necessary to provide the benefits to users that they expect from 5G networks, while they are indoors. It also allows service providers to extend coverage and increase capacity of their networks.
6 GHz spectrum will only improve upon Wi-Fi’s ability to deliver secure, robust, and consistent connectivity, both indoors and outdoors, for example in public venues including stadiums, campuses, and other public facilities. Wi-Fi 6E will deliver positive experiences for even the most bandwidth intensive applications, including quickly downloading or streaming high-definition videos or experiencing high-quality, low latency, video conferencing calls.
It will also continue to play an important role in the advancement of applications for the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), ultra-high-definition video, immersive internet experiences, industrial applications, and much more.
The UKs internet infrastructure is being stretched to its limits with millions logging on from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But Wi-Fi 6E brings significant improvements, including improved data rates, increased capacity, improved power efficiency, and much greater performance in areas with many connected devices. So, extending Wi-Fi operation into 6 GHz will provide users with enhanced connectivity, even in dense environments – which today also includes the home – or crowded public spaces.
This means Wi-Fi experiences everywhere can be improved – indoors and outdoors, at home, on-the-go, in densely populated areas, and large public venues. Wi-Fi experiences at UK football stadiums like Stamford Bridge, public gardens, and even while riding the tube will all be enhanced.
The secret ingredient to the success of 5G
Wi-Fi already supports a significant portion of carrier network data traffic through offload, and 6 GHz will allow it to extract even more value from unlicensed spectrum. 6 GHz enables Wi-Fi to deliver many of the advantages expected from 5G – such as lower latency, higher capacity, and increased bandwidth – while providing users with wider channels, and less congested spectrum for greater network performance that supports more users with peak performance at once.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States recently became the first regulatory body to make the courageous step of making all 1200 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in 6 GHz available for unlicensed use. Regulatory action in the UK will prevent a looming spectrum crunch from degrading the socioeconomic benefits delivered by Wi-Fi.
Ofcom has announced intentions to make 6 GHz available in the UK, but a clear timeline has not yet been set. Other countries are not progressing quite as quickly and are missing out on a very valuable resource. If the UK wants to see the full benefits of its 5G infrastructure, now is the time to make 6 GHz available for Wi-Fi.
The author is Alex Roytblat, senior director of Worldwide Regulatory Affairs at Wi-Fi Alliance.