Your Sluggish WiFi Nightmare Could Soon Come to an End

FCC begins new proceeding to free up more high-speed spectrum

Anyone who has used WiFi recently doesn't have to be told that WiFi networks, particularly in public hot spots like airports and conferences, can be iffy, depending on how many people go on at the same time. Today, more than 60 percent of mobile data consumption happens on WiFi networks, per Arbitron Mobile. By all forecasts, WiFi demand is only going to explode.

Living up to his nickname as "the spectrum chairman," Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski delivered on a promise he made to start the process of freeing up more spectrum for high-speed, high-capacity WiFi known as Gigabit WiFi.

At the FCC's monthly meeting Wednesday, the commission unanimously agreed on a notice of proposed rulemaking to increase by 35 percent the amount of mobile spectrum available for unlicensed use. It will be the largest block of unlicensed spectrum made available to expand WiFi in 10 years.

Specifically, the rule will allow WiFi networks to share a chunk of spectrum that is infrequently used by radar and some intelligence automotive systems (talking-cars technology).

Over time, the proposal should lead to "less congestion and faster speeds," at major WiFi hot spots, but also in consumers' homes, said an FCC official.

How long it will take for consumers to notice the difference is unclear. When it comes to spectrum issues, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds.

Once the FCC holds a comments period, it will need to coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to work out how the spectrum will be shared with incumbent government and commercial users. In a highly technical letter to the FCC, the NTIA raised a few questions and considerations that the FCC should take into account in its rulemaking.

And while consumers may be anxious for more WiFi, a few industries that are already operating in the band of spectrum—aerospace and automakers—may have something to say about interference issues.

"We are aware that the band we have identified is being used by both federal and nonfederal users," said Genachowski during the meeting. "It will require significant consultation with stakeholders. But consultation cannot be an excuse for inaction or delay."

Bring on the engineers. 

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