FCC ruling paves the way for the biggest Wi-Fi upgrade in 20 years

The news: A ruling last week from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit enables the FCC to open up 1,200MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz band for general use, ostensibly clearing the way for faster, more reliable Wi-Fi 6E home networks.

More on this: The ruling, which backs up a 2020 decision expanding the 6GHz Wi-Fi band, could make existing Wi-Fi 6E routers more efficient by enabling multiple streams to broadcast simultaneously without interference, per The Verge.

  • Top speeds for Wi-Fi 6 are 30% faster than the fastest speeds for Wi-Fi 5. The standard’s performance excels in busy networks with lots of connected devices.
  • Current Wi-Fi devices operate on two spectrum bands, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Wi-Fi 6E adds a third spectrum band, 6 GHz, quadrupling the overall airwaves utilized for Wi-Fi.
  • Computers and phones with support for Wi-Fi 6E trickled into the market during 2021, but not at a rate or magnitude required for mass adoption. Smart TVs and VR headsets, which could benefit from the boost in bandwidth, haven't adopted it yet.
  • Various Wi-Fi 6 routers are on the market; however, only a handful of smartphones and PCs currently support the standard out of the box.

The bigger picture: The continued reality of remote work, compounded by the recent Delta and Omicron variant surges, will make robust and resilient Wi-Fi connections more important than 5G wireless adoption, at least for the short term. The FCC’s unlocking of Wi-Fi 6 bandwidth could help promote greater standardization. 

  • Wider Wi-Fi 6 adoption will require investment in updated routers as well as smartphones, PCs, and smart home devices that can work with the standard. Wi-Fi 7, which could offer 2.4 times the speed of Wi-Fi 6, is also around the corner, further complicating plans for near-term adoption.
  • Faster Wi-Fi will not speed up current ISP speeds and might compound an already overburdened network infrastructure.