WifiForward adds ballast to demand for unlicensed spectrum

Internet and communications heavyweights along with other supporters want more spectrum for Wi-Fi and they want it now. 

The WifiForward coalition is calling for policymakers to open up more unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi and other uses, contending that Wi-Fi in general is at risk due to a deluge of wireless data traffic that is causing increasing spectrum congestion.

Members of the new coalition include the Arris Group, Best Buy, Comcast, the Consumer Electronics Association, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Time Warner Cable and others.

Google and Microsoft are also leading the charge to demand for unlicensed TV white space (TVWS spectrum) worldwide, indicating the value they place on enabling free or inexpensive access to the Internet and, likewise, their products and services.

The cable companies, Comcast and Time Warner, are part of a trend that sees MSOs building up their Wi-Fi footprints in order to provide wireless broadband services over unlicensed frequencies, enabling them to compete against services offered by cellular carriers over licensed spectrum. James Assey, executive vice president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, noted NCTA members have more than 200,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and in excess of 1 million indoor hotspots deployed nationwide.

WifiForward outlined three parts to its mission: 1) protect and strengthen existing unlicensed spectrum designations; 2) free up new spectrum for unlicensed use at a variety of frequencies; and 3) establish transparent and predictable unlicensed rules.

The coalition indicated it is initially trying to push its agenda via the FCC's ongoing proceedings to open up the 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands rather than turn to Congress with its demands.

Paul Mitchell, general manager, technology policy at Microsoft, said individual coalition members can work with the FCC within its current mandate to open up more unlicensed spectrum. "There may be opportunities to work with Congress on different approaches later, but I think that's a longer-term proposition," he added.

To bolster its arguments, WifiForward released an economic study showing unlicensed spectrum generated $222 billion in value to the U.S. economy in 2013 and contributed $6.7 billion to U.S. gross domestic product. The GDP figure was based upon the estimated values of Wi-Fi offloading ($3.12 billion); wireless Internet service providers' operations, ($1.439 billion); and revenues generated by Bluetooth, Zigbee and WirelessHART products ($2.166 billion).

According to Cisco's latest Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast report, 52 percent of global mobile traffic will be offloaded onto Wi-Fi and/or small cell networks by 2018, up from 45 percent in 2013.

The spread of LTE networks worldwide is expected to drive Wi-Fi offloading.

"The amount of traffic offloaded from 4G was 54 percent at the end of 2013 and will be 56 percent by 2018," Cisco said. "The amount of traffic offloaded from 3G will be 49 percent by 2018, and the amount of traffic offloaded from 2G will be 40 percent by 2018."

For more:
- see this WifiForward release
- see this Wall Street Journal article

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