6 July 2023

Sharing 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi and mobile

More capacity for Wi-Fi and mobile internet users could be made available in the upper 6 GHz spectrum band, under a new approach being explored by Ofcom.

Demand for data has grown significantly in recent years – from people using both Wi-Fi and mobile networks – and we expect this to continue. This will put pressure on radio spectrum, the valuable and finite resource on which all radiocommunications depend.

The upper 6 GHz spectrum band is currently a focus for industry interest to support this ongoing traffic growth. This interest is split between using the band for the exclusive introduction of either licensed mobile use or low power licence exempt use such as Wi-Fi.

However, rather than choosing between the two, we believe an alternative approach is possible. We are exploring options that would enable the use of both Wi-Fi and mobile in the band. We are calling this ‘hybrid sharing’. Two examples for how this might be achieved are:

  • Indoor outdoor split. Wi-Fi routers tend to be indoors – carrying broadband traffic within a localised indoor area; whereas mobile transmitters are mostly located outdoors – providing wider area coverage. So, we are exploring the possibility of enabling the indoor use of Wi-Fi while also enabling licensed mobile use outdoors.
  • Geographical sharing. Most of the data traffic carried across mobile networks tends to be concentrated in a relatively small proportion of sites. It might be possible to enable licensed mobile use in specific high-traffic locations while allowing Wi-Fi use elsewhere. It might also be possible to prioritise Wi-Fi use in specific areas of high demand while allowing mobile use in other areas.

We are looking to identify appropriate hybrid sharing mechanisms to facilitate coexistence between licenced mobile and Wi-Fi in this band. We are also pressing for international harmonisation of hybrid sharing in this band, to enable economies of scale for equipment.

We are inviting comments on this approach by 15 September 2023.

What is spectrum?

You can’t see or feel radio spectrum. But any device that communicates wirelessly needs spectrum – such as televisions, car key fobs, baby monitors, wireless microphones and satellites. Mobile phones use spectrum to connect to a local mast so people can make calls and access the internet.

Why does Ofcom manage spectrum use?

Only a limited amount of spectrum is available, so it needs to be managed carefully. Certain bands of spectrum are also used for different purposes. For example, mobile companies use different parts of the spectrum to TV companies. So, it needs to be managed to prevent services interfering and causing disruption to people and businesses.

See also...