The Federal Communications Commission will take steps to open up fresh unlicensed spectrum next month to ease congestion on existing Wi-Fi traffic hot spots and allow more bandwidth for video using faster WLAN technology.
Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the agency wants to start in February to open up 195MHz of extra spectrum in the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi. This would be the largest block of unlicensed spectrum to be made available for expansion of Wi-Fi since 2003, the agency says.
The benefits of this, the agency adds, would be to ease congestion on crowded public Wi-Fi hotspot networks in airports, hotels and coffee shops; while opening up space for more Wi-Fi devices on a home network.
The agency also expects the move will free up the space available for forthcoming 802.11ac "Gigabit Wi-Fi" technology, which is regarded as a good transport for HD video over-the-air. The first 802.11ac routers are just starting to arrive on the market now and there's a question how robust device support will be for the new technology in 2013.
Why this matters
The latest iPhone and Android smartphones and other devices support Wi-Fi on the 5GHz band. Older devices tend to just support Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band, which is the really crowded band in public places. So device support for 5GHz should both ease congestion and enable the faster 802.11ac technology. The more devices that can get on the clear air of the fresh 5GHz spectrum, the less congestion there will be on the 2.4GHz band.
In the home, a new class of multi-service gateways from cable operators and other service operators are being outfitted with 802.11ac so HD video can be streamed to tablets and other IP-connected devices hanging on the home network.