FCC unleashing more 5 GHz spectrum for 'Gigabit Wi-Fi'

The FCC moved to satiate the public's growing appetite for Wi-Fi by promising to unleash 195 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band, which the commission contends will alleviate Wi-Fi congestion at major gathering places and enable higher data speeds and greater capacity for "Gigabit Wi-Fi" applications.

The plan, announced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas, would make open up the largest block of unlicensed spectrum made available for Wi-Fi since 2003, when capacity in the 5 GHz band was doubled.

"As this spectrum comes on line, we expect it to relieve congested Wi-Fi networks at major hubs like convention centers and airports. It will also help in homes as tablets and smartphones proliferate and video use rises," said Genachowski.

Further, the move will increase by 35 percent the amount of spectrum available for "Gigabit Wi-Fi," based on soon-to-be-standardized 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology, which uses only the 5 GHz band. 802.11ac is designed to offer data speeds up to 1.3 Gbps, making it especially attractive for video streaming. Genachowski said the additional 5 GHz spectrum will provide for improved HD video distribution capabilities.

The commission expects to launch a proceeding on the spectrum plan next month. But, there could be some obstacles, given that the 5 GHz band is already being used for other purposes by both federal and non-federal users, and they might need to relocate their activities to other spectrum. Genachowski said the FCC will "move expeditiously" to complete the proceeding.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), host of the massive CES held each year in Las Vegas, lent its approval to the plan, which Genachowski shared during his one-on-one CES session with Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA.

"CEA enthusiastically applauds Chairman Genachowski and the FCC for committing to free up spectrum, expediting ultra high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi in support of the U.S. innovation economy," said Shapiro.

The National Broadband Plan, first conceived via an FCC Notice of Inquiry in April 2009, aims to make 500 megahertz of spectrum newly available for broadband by 2020, 300 MHz of which should be made available for mobile use by 2015. In October, Genachowski said the agency is on track to exceed the initial goal.

"With 75 MHz from traditional auctions, 70 MHz from removing regulatory barriers, 100 MHz from dynamic sharing, and significant spectrum from incentive auctions, reallocations of government spectrum, and white spaces, we are on track to exceed the 300 MHz target by 2015," Genachowski said.

For more:
- see this FCC release
- see this CEA release

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