The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Monday to boost Wi-Fi capabilities by releasing more of the airwaves for use.
Increasing the capability of Wi-Fi “is a big deal,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during the commission’s monthly meeting.
The unanimous vote frees up 100 MHz of airwaves in the lower part of 5 GHz spectrum band. Previously, the FCC reserved those airwaves for exclusive use by a satellite phone company.
The FCC vote opens those unlicensed airwaves so they can be used by consumer electronics equipment, including Wi-Fi routers. With the new airwaves, Wi-Fi equipment can handle more traffic at higher speeds.
“This items transforms the spectrum from virtually unusable to usable for Wi-Fi,” Wheeler said.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who's a vocal advocate of opening up unlicensed airwaves to create opportunities for experimentation and innovation, pointed to unlicensed airwaves' economic benefit, which is already at $140 billion annually.
The move will benefit both Wi-Fi users and smartphone users who “offload,” or switch to Wi-Fi airwaves when their mobile networks are congested, she said.
Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly echoed the optimism about future innovative uses of Wi-Fi airwaves.
“The beauty of unlicensed spectrum … is that no one can predict with certainty what it will be used for,” he said.
Commissioners called for more unlicensed airwaves to further boost Wi-Fi capabilities.
“Let’s not stop here,” Rosenworcel said, calling on the agency to find space for unlicensed use in the 3.5 GHz and 600 MHz spectrum bands.
Members of the tech industry commended the FCC for its move to boost Wi-Fi.
“Wi-Fi is about to get bigger, better, and faster,” said WiFiForward in a statement. The trade group includes Google, Comcast, Microsoft and Best Buy.
“The FCC's action will create a new environment for experimentation, new business models, and better Wi-Fi,” the group said.
In a blog post Monday, Cisco, which builds Wi-Fi equipment that relies on unlicensed waves, said the FCC’s action “eliminated the ‘speed bump’” that capped the capabilities of Wi-Fi airwaves.
“This will make it easier for all of us to consume a wide range of content on our mobile devices, most notably high definition video without frustrating lags or delays,” Cisco Director of Government Affairs Mary Brown wrote.