Although both mobile operators and the Wi-Fi industry declared victories following the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) in Dubai last December, the agreement allows for both licensed and unlicensed operations in the 6GHz band. This differs from the two most prominent schools of spectrum, American and Chinese, where the 6GHz spectrum is predominantly allocated to Wi-Fi services or 5G. However, it aligns with the European strategy of facilitating coexistence between International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and Wi-Fi technologies.
Among the countries that have delicensed both the upper and lower 6GHz bands are the United States, Canada, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. The other group, which includes the European Union, the United Kingdom, and many others has delicenced only the lower 6GHz band. Conversely, China allocated a significant portion of its 6GHz spectrum to 5G in 2023, positioning itself at the forefront of enabling 5G (and, eventually, 6G) technology.
The EU considers the allocation of the 6GHz band crucial for boosting 5G deployment and aims for a hybrid solution where Wi-Fi and International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) can coexist. Final decisions are expected by 2026, with Europe likely providing early insights into the technical feasibility of this coexistence.
Proponents of delicensing the 6GHz band argue that it enables the use of spectrum bands more flexibly, without the constraints of specific services. They emphasize the preference for Wi-Fi over 5G in home internet settings and suggest that delicensing Wi-Fi could lower internet costs in remote areas, as Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E use existing, therefore less expensive technology. Additionally, they point to Wi-Fi 6E’s capacity for speeds up to 9.6 Gbps, three times faster than current standards, and its superior performance in crowded settings. Moreover, Wi-Fi 6E is noted for its energy efficiency (attributed to built-in power-saving features) and adaptability to challenging geographical landscapes.
Proponents of allocating the 6GHz spectrum to International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and specifically to 5G highlight different benefits. They stress that such an allocation would significantly increase bandwidth and capacity, leading to improved quality of service. 5G, designed to deliver speeds up to 10 Gbps, would benefit from the 6GHz with reduced latency, which is crucial for applications that require real-time responsiveness, such as autonomous driving and telemedicine. Additionally, 5G supports up to a million connected devices per square kilometer, an essential feature for the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.
Both technologies have specific uses: Wi-Fi 6 E is ideal for smart homes, virtual reality, and large-scale events, while 5G excels in autonomous vehicles, telemedicine, and industrial Internet of Things applications. Each has its competitive advantages. 5G typically covers a more comprehensive geographical range than Wi-Fi 6E and can be used both indoors and outdoors. 5G offers slightly faster speeds, whereas Wi-Fi 6E requires less investment in infrastructure.
As governments worldwide ponder the future of the 6GHz spectrum and experts question the benefits versus the costs, many political questions need to be addressed.
Providing affordable connectivity in remote areas is a complex challenge, and there are no clear answers to the best solution. In the past, smaller and geographically flatter countries have found straightforward solutions for mobile connectivity, such as state investment in backbone infrastructure and facilitating last-mile access for commercial use. Larger countries with complex topography face challenges on an entirely different scale, especially in developing markets.
Originally published here