Blog November 6, 2018

Freeing Up Spectrum for the Future of Wifi

By Craig Cowden, Senior Vice President Wireless Engineering, Charter Communications

As one of the country’s leading connectivity providers and largest ISPs, Charter appreciates the tremendous value Wifi provides our customers today and how it will power the technological innovations of the future. Today, Charter’s Wifi network serves more than 300 million wireless devices, many of which are smart phones provided by cellular companies, and carries 80 percent of the data consumed on those devices in our customers’ homes and offices.

Demand for Wifi is the highest it has ever been, and is growing every day. Wifi is central to people’s everyday lives and to how global entities conduct business and deliver essential services, from medical telemetry and home security, to critical machine communications and billions of dollars in secure financial transactions. In fact, Wifi has been so successful we are now approaching exhaust conditions with respect to the existing unlicensed spectrum that Wifi operates on. In order to keep pace with growing demand and reliance on Wifi, and to facilitate continued unlicensed innovation, hundreds of megahertz of additional unlicensed spectrum must be made available in the next few years. While the 6 GHz band that is being considered for unlicensed use offers promise as a long-term solution to free up additional capacity, the 5.9GHz band offers immediate relief to address this Wifi capacity crisis.

The 5.9 GHz band is the most viable option to meet this need and deliver advanced Gigabit Wifi because it is optimally positioned directly adjacent to the existing unlicensed 5 GHz band that currently supports Wifi services. That means two important things: (1) opening it would make available an additional 160 MHz channel needed for Gigabit Wifi performance, and (2) providers could quickly bring it to use, in many cases with what would amount to a simple software upgrade.

That is why recent tests conducted by the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) are so important. OET’s tests found Wifi can safely operate in the 5.9 GHz band. Importantly, they bolster the call of many stakeholders, including Charter, for the FCC to take a fresh look at this band for unlicensed use.

Additionally, this highly valuable 5.9 GHz spectrum has been left essentially unused for the last 20 years. The FCC originally designated it in 1999 for the use of Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), a specific type of vehicle communications technology, intending to spur development of intelligent driving systems. However, despite its exclusive access to this free spectrum, DSRC implementation has failed to advance past the pilot phase. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued guidance encouraging automakers and technology developers to pursue other solutions[1].

In the meantime, the marketplace surpassed DSRC, producing more efficient vehicle safety technologies relying on other commercial wireless spectrum, radars, and sensors.

The FCC’s recently released test results clearly show Wifi can operate in the 5.9 GHz band without causing harmful interference. Combined with its optimal Wifi characteristics and that it is sitting fallow due to the almost complete lack of use for vehicle communications, 5.9 GHz is the best near-term opportunity for the Commission to substantially boost connectivity and unlicensed innovation.

The FCC is currently seeking comment on its latest test results. But given both the market failure of DSRC and OET’s recent findings, we encourage the Commission to begin rulemaking soon to bring this untapped resource to the market.

We can’t afford to let this valuable mid-band spectrum remain unused any longer – doing so not only risks the utility of existing Wifi applications consumers rely on today, but also jeopardizes the immense investment already put towards the technologies of tomorrow.