Regulatory Reform

Paving The Way For Innovation: Increasing Available 5GHz Unlicensed Spectrum

In the 21st century, a significant amount of our personal and professional lives are spent using Wi-Fi enabled technology. Smartphones, tablets, and computers allow us to become more productive and innovative. Unfortunately, the incredible success of mobile technology has left a huge burden on the existing broadband infrastructure.  Left alone, Wi-Fi data traffic jams will manifest like gridlock at the height of rush hour.

The solution? More spectrum for unlicensed Wi-Fi networks. Freeing up spectrum in the 5 GHz band will foster higher bandwidth capabilities for Wi-Fi enabled devices. This will allow more data traffic and higher speeds.

Specifically, the looming issue is Wi-Fi exhaust. As networks become more and more congested, download speeds slow down and services are rendered useless, especially for high bandwidth content. We will soon be generating more wireless broadband data traffic than we have the infrastructure to support. When networks are overused, everyone suffers from slower speeds and lower quality of service. The eventual deficit will handicap Wi-Fi usage unless we do something about it now.

According to one analyst, Wi-Fi usage accounts for 80 percent of all data traffic by smartphones, tablets, and other consumer electronics. On-demand video streaming, one of the more demanding uses of the Internet, increased by 66 percent in 2013. Given the bandwidth-intensive nature of streaming services, it would be wise to assume that future strain on networks will slow down service for everyone. That is, if additional spectrum is not made available.

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index provides additional statistics on our use of wireless Internet. Busy-hour traffic is growing more rapidly than average traffic. Over half of all IP traffic will originate with non-PC devices by 2018, with tablets and smart phones growing at 74 percent and 64 percent respectively. The explosive growth of mobile technology coupled with the fact that most of the data used by phones is on Wi-Fi networks makes a solid case for why we need to unchain spectrum for better service.

Currently, only the 2.4 GHz band and a small chunk of the 5 GHz band are available for Wi-Fi usage. 5 GHz signals carry more bandwidth at the expense of signal distance, due to the higher frequency of broadcast than 2.4 GHz. Therefore the best answer lies in making more of the expansive 5 GHz band usable by Wi-Fi. Additional spectrum at 5 GHz would not only help relieve congestion in other bands, but would permit the deployment of next-generation Wi-Fi with speeds up to 1 Gig.

In March, the FCC took an important first step by issuing an order making 100 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band available for unlicensed Wi-Fi usage in homes and outdoor hotspot deployments. Accordingly, on July 1st, the American Legislative Exchange Council officially adopted a resolution declaring it “supports the Federal Communications Commission’s move to allocate additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band for unlicensed use in order to meet increased demand for wireless technologies.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida recently introduced S. 2505, a bill that seeks to establish deadlines for the government’s consideration of opening additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi use. By adopting methods to encourage the use of 5 GHz band along strict deadlines, this bill would prompt the government to punctually address the issue before it becomes a real problem. Additionally, the bill provides for a study to help understand the barriers preventing wireless networks in low-income neighborhoods. Such a measure is another step in the right direction.

Ensuring an ever-expanding market for innovative products will require the availability of higher bandwidth for the next generation of technology. Virtual reality, wearable tech, and automated transportation will all benefit from increased bandwidth. The key to the future of U.S. economic dominance resides in promoting these growing industries, not letting them sputter and fall short of their potential.

Many Wi-Fi devices built within the past few years already have built-in circuitry to work in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. This helps ensure seamless expansion of data traffic on unlicensed Wi-Fi networks.

Continued growth of wireless broadband is a central element of technology and economic policy in the United States. But the Wi-Fi traffic jam is looming, as the current 2.4 GHz spectrum is expected to run out by 2014. The FCC needs to take decisive action to free up 5 GHz spectrum. And Congress has a meaningful role to ensure that reforms are carried to completion. So what are we waiting for? Let’s open the flood gates of the greatest force for innovation the United States has to offer.

In Depth: Regulatory Reform

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry.” Sadly, governments – both federal and state – have ignored this axiom and…

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