FCC votes to open up more Wi-Fi spectrum

Wi-Fi is getting its largest upgrade in 20 years

There’s going to be a little more room for Wi-Fi. The Federal Communications Commission voted today to open up a small amount of additional wireless spectrum for unlicensed indoor use, which should help to improve speeds and reduce congestion on 5GHz Wi-Fi networks.

The new swath of spectrum (which falls around 5.9GHz) was previously reserved for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications — but since being set aside two decades ago, the auto industry hasn’t done much with it. So now the FCC is taking away a little more than half of the airwaves it reserved and offering them up to the public for use as Wi-Fi. (Despite getting nowhere with this spectrum, the auto industry is nonetheless annoyed that the FCC is taking it away.)

“Today we put to end two decades of waste and inefficient use of the valuable 5.9GHz band,” FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly said ahead of the vote. O’Rielly said that many existing Wi-Fi devices will be able to start using the new spectrum with only “quick software upgrades.”

This expansion is good news for anyone who uses Wi-Fi, since it should offer small increases to speeds and reliability once gadgets start to support it. Wi-Fi has been operating on around 400MHz of unlicensed spectrum for the past two decades — today’s vote opens up another 45Mhz, which represents a small but meaningful improvement.

That said, an even bigger prize for Wi-Fi was opened up earlier this year. In April, the commission voted to open 1,200MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz band, quadrupling the total available space. Gadgets by and large haven’t been updated to support this new spectrum yet, but once they are, it should lead to considerable improvements in speed and reliability.

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