The FCC today voted unanimously to boost Wi-Fi capabilities across the country. The ruling opens up 100MHz of airwaves in the lower part of the 5GHz spectrum for use by Wi-Fi devices. Previously, these airwaves were reserved for satellite phone companies. According to the FCC, these unlicensed airwaves will now help Wi-Fi networks handle more traffic at higher speeds in congested areas like convention centers, parks, and airports.
This proposal has been a year in the making: it was presented to the FCC in January 2013, and earlier this month, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called upon the commission to finally vote on it. Until now, most Wi-Fi traffic goes through the 2.4GHz band, but Rosenworcel and supporters called for more space in the other lower bands to be opened to Wi-Fi devices. Much of that space has been reserved for carriers, but as CIO reported, only the satellite firm Globalstar uses part of the 5 GHz band. The FCC currently allows Wi-Fi to use 555 MHz of that spectrum, but in limited capacity.
"We need to choose efficiency over inefficiency and speed over congestion."
The newly available 100 MHz is only about half of the 195MHz the proposal originally asked for, but it is a start in the push for better Wi-Fi access in already crowded spectrums. Cisco Systems estimates that by 2018, Wi-Fi networks will carry more cellphone traffic than traditional cellular networks. That could create a big mess for spectrums if the allocation stays the way it is now, but it seems like the FCC is becoming more open to expanding Wi-Fi capabilities by opening up spectrums that have had limited or no Wi-Fi usage in the past. However, that won't come without some pushback in the future: Rosenworcel asked the FCC to consider opening space in the 3.5 GHz and 600 MHz spectrum bands as well — areas that are coveted by carriers of mobile broadband service. The FCC is scheduled to auction that space in mid-2015.