The next generation of wireless innovation
© Greg Nash

The world’s first website came online in August 1991 – just over 27 years ago. The world of Internet-based services was in its infancy. This was six years before the 802.11 standard was released to consumers, and eight years before that standard was rebranded “Wi-Fi” as we all know it today. Back then, Wi-Fi was a novel way to deliver Internet access using wireless airwaves, otherwise known as spectrum. Today, Wi-Fi has an estimated economic value of over $500 billion, and that number is growing fast.

Spectrum enables our wireless ecosystem, powering everything from our radio and broadcast signals to mobile Internet data and home wireless networks. Both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) and Congress have been working hard to bring additional spectrum to market, through auctions and rules at the FCC and the bipartisan, bicameral SPECTRUM NOW Act in Congress, which would provide Federal agencies with resources to potentially repurpose a significant amount of spectrum for commercial use.

We’ve come a long way since the first website, but the demand for wireless services continues to grow. We recognize the need to allocate additional spectrum for consumer use to fully realize the world of connected devices, the Internet of Things, and next generation networks. The mix of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum will be necessary to provide consumers with access to the services of the future, ranging from streaming ultra-high definition videos to virtual reality and remote surgery.

Unfortunately, today’s spectrum landscape is congested and overcrowded. To meet the growing demand for next generation services, the FCC launched an inquiry last year to examine the potential suitability of additional spectrum bands for wireless broadband services. That inquiry produced significant and important data, studies, and proposals to open more spectrum for wireless use. And, just this summer the FCC took an important step by approving a rulemaking to explore opening additional spectrum for licensed use in the C band downlink, the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

This success notwithstanding, we believe that the FCC should address the need for additional licensed and unlicensed spectrum together. The FCC can do more on the unlicensed side by similarly moving forward with a rulemaking to open the C band uplink, or 5.925-6.425 and 6.425-7.125 GHz bands (collectively, the “6 GHz band”), to more uses. The nature of unlicensed spectrum is opportunistic and innovation-friendly. Technologies such as Bluetooth devices, at-home intelligent speaker assistants, Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas, smart watches, connected wearables, and remote controls to name a few, have been deployed in unlicensed spectrum and have varied applications, but each has generated significant economic growth. And an ever-growing amount of cellular traffic that will travel over Wi-Fi at higher-capacity networks, including 5G, are coming to market. We are pleased that the FCC will be launching a rulemaking to explore this band in the fall.

To be clear, existing users in the 6 GHz band must be sufficiently protected. These users provide critical services ranging from public safety to the control and coordination of railroad operations, pipelines, and electric grids, satellite distribution, and broadcast and cable relay services. As it moves forward, the FCC should ensure an opportunity for existing users to provide valuable input on the protections they need.

Not too long ago, it took a dial-up modem and an argument with whomever was using the phone line to connect to the Internet. Now, wireless broadband access exists at most consumers’ fingertips. But to ensure we are able to achieve the next generation of wireless innovation and the many services it promises, we need to ensure we have enough spectrum available to meet the demand.

Matsui and Guthrie are Congressional Spectrum Caucus Co-chairs. Jessica Rosenworcel and Mike O’Rielly are FCC Commissioners.