New 6 GHz Wi-Fi could add $153 billion to U.S. economy: report

Unlocked Wi-Fi spectrum in the 6 GHz band, just approved by the FCC, will do more than increase capacity. IoT will be a big gainer.

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Opening the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi could add $153.75 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years, according to a new study.

In late April, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules that make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. Freeing up the chunk of 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi is the biggest frequency allocation upgrade to the now aging wireless protocol in 10 years. Wi-Fi using 5 GHz spectrum – the last major touch-up – was introduced in 2009. The original 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi was introduced in 1997.

The industry-paid-for report (PDF) from WifiForward claims billions of dollars will be created, in a large part because of an acceleration of Internet of Things deployments. WifiForward is a group of pro-Wi-Fi companies, organizations and public sector institutions; Google, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are among its members.

The new 6 GHz-capable technology is branded Wi-Fi 6E, with the designator "E" for Extended (it's distinct from the current Wi-Fi 6 branding, which is merely a Wi-Fi iteration and has nothing to do with the frequency used). Wi-Fi 6E takes advantage of 1,200 megahertz of free cost-to-user spectrum in the 6 GHz band between 5.925 GHz and 7.125 GHz. That's higher in the spectrum than existing Wi-Fi, it's wider, and it will be more capacious and faster: "Wi-Fi 6 will be over two-and-a-half times faster than the current standard and will offer better performance for American consumers," the FCC says in a news release (PDF). "Opening the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use will also increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five."

The full 1,200 megahertz will be allocated to indoor, low-power devices, such as those used heavily in M2M and IoT. Standard-power devices, such as those used for media consumption, will be restricted to 850 megahertz in the 6 GHz band.

How the U.S. economy benefits from Wi-Fi 6E

The $153.75 billion figure from WifiForward breaks down into three areas: $83.06 billion added to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP); $67.78 billion in producer surplus; and $2.92 billion in consumer surplus. The economic gains are anticipated over the next five years.

Producer surplus is an economic term that relates to the difference between the price received and price at which the vendor would be willing to sell the product. Consumer surplus relates to the difference between prices actually paid by users and prices that could be paid. The report expects that people and enterprises would be prepared to pay more for higher speeds, in other words. Equipment sales would benefit from increased broadband speeds, for example.

The contribution to GDP from enhanced, free, Internet of Things capacity is one of the most interesting findings of the report: Roughly half of the $83 billion GDP gain ($44.03 billion) will come from a broader deployment of IoT devices, according to WifiForward.

Other line items contributing to WifiForward's top-level calculations include 5G offload, whereby cellular carriers can save money by using the additional Wi-Fi bandwidth for licensed 5G-originating traffic. In addition, a projected surge in demand for augmented reality and virtual reality equipment will result from the availability of more unlicensed bandwidth; bottlenecks could finally disappear, and the tech genre could finally kick in.

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