WiFi 7 and the controversy over 6 GHz unlicensed vs licensed spectrum


Even though the IEEE 802.11be standard is yet to be released officially, there are currently Wi-Fi 7 routers on the market from many major vendors. Wi-Fi 7 provides significantly faster speeds then WiFi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax), with ultra-low latencies and a better communication channel.  Thereby, more devices can be connected efficiently.

Wi-Fi 7 routers are capable of delivering wireless data transfer speeds of up to 46 Gbps, which is five times greater than that of Wi-Fi 6E routers. Wi-Fi 7 routers can also operate on multiple bands: carrier frequency operation is between 1 and 7.250 GHz while ensuring backward compatibility and coexistence with legacy IEEE Std 802.11 compliant devices operating in the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands.  Latency is also lower with a Wi-Fi 7 router and channel connections are more efficient.

Some Wi-Fi 7 routers include the NETGEAR Nighthawk Tri-Band WiFi 7 Router BE19000 Wireless Speed, the TP-Link BE9300 Tri-Band Wi-Fi 7 Router ARCHER BE550, and the ASUS BE96U Tri-Band WiFi 7 Router RT-BE96U.

6 GHz Band Controversy:

As of September 2023, the following countries have adopted the policy of making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use: U.S., South Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Peru. Canada has also made 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum available for unlicensed services. The 6 GHz band is the largest allocation of unlicensed spectrum in the US and South Korea.

Some other countries that have enabled Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band include: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, CEPT.

China has chosen a licensed approach for the 6 GHz band, using the entire 1,200 MHz for 5G and future 6G services.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) suggests that the lower end of the 6 GHz spectrum band can be allocated for unlicensed use, such as WiFi, while the upper end can be licensed for telecom use. Netgear said that the India DoT (Department of Telecommunications) is considering to delicense the lower band 6 GHz spectrum.

However, WRC 23 agreed to open up the 6 GHz band for future high-speed mobile communications (instead of for unlicensed WiFi).  The 6 GHz band (6.425-7.125 GHz) – was identified for mobile in every ITU Region – EMEA, the Americas and the Asia Pacific. Countries representing more than 60% of the world’s population asked to be included in the identification of this band for licensed mobile at WRC-23. The 6 GHz spectrum is now the harmonized home for the expansion of mobile capacity for 5G-Advanced and beyond.




WRC-23 concludes with decisions on low-band/mid-band spectrum and 6G (?)

MediaTek Introduces Global Ecosystem of Wi-Fi 7 Products at CES 2023

Highlights of Qualcomm 5G Fixed Wireless Access Platform Gen 3

Qualcomm FastConnect 7800 combining WiFi 7 and Bluetooth in single chip

Intel and Broadcom complete first Wi-Fi 7 cross-vendor demonstration with speeds over 5 Gbps

3 thoughts on “WiFi 7 and the controversy over 6 GHz unlicensed vs licensed spectrum

  1. Mike Dano, LightReading:
    In 2020 the FCC allocated the entire 6GHz band to unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi, precluding wireless operators from using it. But operators outside the US have access to the band.

    “The 6GHz band – which has been allocated for unlicensed access in the United States across the full 1,200 megahertz – is now earmarked to be the harmonized home for licensed mobile in the top half of the band for a majority of the world,” wrote Umair Javed, SVP of spectrum for CTIA, the main US lobbying association for 5G network operators, on the association’s website. Before joining CTIA last year, Javed was chief counsel for the FCC, the primary regulatory agency for spectrum in the US.

    Javed warned that new international regulations will give operators in other countries a leg up on those in the US. The 6GHz band “is not available in the United States [to 5G operators], again underscoring the need for the US to identify a viable path for itself and the countries following our lead on replacement spectrum for future wireless use,” he wrote.

    Others agree on the importance of 6GHz to 5G operators. The financial analysts at New Street Research described the band as “potentially transformative.”

    “We believe the allocation of the upper-6GHz band [to 5G] has significant implications for the evolution of mobile networks over the mid-term (i.e. 2030+),” the analysts explained in a recent note to investors, adding that allocation to cellular networks would give operators more options for capacity expansion.

    “This spectrum could be ideal for providing urban capacity close to macro cell sites, allowing existing bands to be used in the outer edges of the cell, thereby materially increasing overall network capacity with limited incremental capex,” the analysts wrote.

    An international debate

    In April 2020, former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, explained the reasons to set aside the full 6GHz band for unlicensed operations: “By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five. This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks. And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”

    But that proposal ran counter to the position of the 5G industry in the US, which urged the FCC to allocate all or a portion of the band to licensed operations like 5G.

    US regulators hoped that other countries would follow its lead and allocate the 6GHz band for Wi-Fi. But in 2023 China’s regulators instead set aside a large chunk of the 6GHz spectrum band for 5G network operations, sparking concern among 5G players in the US. “We risk having Chinese networks that are materially better at enabling the industries of the future,” wrote Doug Brake, a CTIA policy official, at the time.

    The debate eventually moved to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), which wrapped up late last year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The quadrennial event is intended to harmonize spectrum usage across the world so that operators, equipment vendors and others can avoid international fragmentation and leverage global economies of scale.

    WRC-23 officials agreed to support both licensed and unlicensed operations in the 6GHz band, depending on what local regulators decide.

    “This therefore still leaves the door open for regional and national regulators to licence the band to mobile or Wi-Fi, or potentially a ‘hybrid sharing’ arrangement between the two technologies,” explained the New Street analysts.

    In Europe, regulators have agreed to study how mobile and Wi-Fi could coexist within the 6GHz band, though no final decisions are expected until 2026.

    “For the European operators, this avoids the negative scenario that the band is exclusively allocated to Wi-Fi – as has been the case in the US, Canada, South Korea and Brazil,” the New Street analysts wrote.

    The 6GHz band is “a 5G expansion band that will be used for 5G-Advanced in the second half of this decade, so getting that ecosystem push from the regulatory result was really important,” Ross Bateson, spectrum director at GSMA, told TelecomTV. The GSMA, an international trade association for the 5G industry, has been campaigning for 5G in the 6GHz band. The group cheered the new 6GHz rules approved at the WRC-23.


  2. The results of the WRC 23 conference for 6GHz are contained within 3 similar footnotes. The footnote relevant for Region 1 (EMEA) identifies the band for IMT *and* also used for RLAN (Wi-Fi). So it’s far too early to conclude that the band is the home for 5G-Advanced and beyond as regional organisations such as CEPT will need to complete their own studies. They may decide to recommend usage for IMT, or Wi-Fi, or a hybrid approach,

    “5.6A12 The frequency bands 6 425-7 125 MHz in Region 1 and 7 025-7 125 MHz in Region 3 are identified for use by administrations wishing to implement the terrestrial component of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT). This identification does not preclude the use of these frequency bands by any application of the services to which they are allocated and does not establish priority in the Radio Regulations. Resolution COM4/7 (WRC-23) applies.
    The frequency bands are also used for the implementation of wireless access systems (WAS), including radio local area networks (RLANs).”

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