Decisions made this year by the Radio Spectrum Management, the government agency that decides how radio waves are used, will affect everyone who uses Wi-Fi at home or work.
Ideally, the entire 6GHz band will be unlicensed. That way we will all be able to make better use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices. Everyone will have a better computer and internet experience.
Yet spectrum is a limited resource. Everyone wants it, including a group of companies who want to sell it back to us.
Unlicensed for now
Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees want Radio Spectrum Management to set aside a slice of the 6GHz band they can use to boost their 5G mobile spectrum.
The big phone companies have money and political clout. But they are up against almost the entire technology sector including companies with even more money and worldwide political clout.
Apple, Microsoft and Google are among the tech giants who submitted to the RSM. The list includes another dozen names you may or may not know.
What’s at stake?
If you haven’t heard of Wi-Fi 6E yet, you soon will.
It’s an upgrade to the wireless network technology that pushes data around homes and offices.
The difference between today’s Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6E is like the difference between dial-up broadband and fibre. It’s faster, more reliable and less trouble.
With Wi-Fi 6E, your home or office wireless network will run at gigabit speeds. Without it, the link from a device to the local wireless router can be the bottleneck between you and the internet.
Wi-Fi 6E connections will be more reliable and you’ll have less trouble getting the network to reach every part of your home or office.
The technology can connect many more devices at the same time.
Wi-Fi 6E solves congestion problems. There will be less interference from your neighbour’s Wi-Fi. This will make it easier for you to get a decent home or office network.
Among other thing you’ll get better streaming and better zoom calls.
Here is a helpful guide to whether you should upgrade to Wi-Fi 6.
Despite its name, the 6GHz band runs from 5.9 to 7.1GHz. That’s 1.2GHz of wireless bandwidth to play with.
That is about four times the amount of bandwidth available to today’s Wi-Fi networks. In other words, you can expect roughly four times the network speed.
Because the 6GHz band is a higher frequency than the 2.4 or 5GHz bands used for today’s Wi-Fi, the signals don’t travel as far. This is why you’ll get less interference from other Wi-Fi networks in your immediate neighbourhood.
Today’s Wi-Fi channels are 40MHz each. The technology needs to have 160MHz channels to deliver the extra performance. That isn’t practical without keeping the entire 6GHz band unlicensed.
What’s happening with 6GHz overseas?
In many places around the world part or all the 6GHz spectrum band has been set aside for unlicensed use. In this context, unlicensed means you can use it for Wi-Fi.
The US, Brazil, Canada and Korea are among the nations who have announced they are allocating the entire 6GHz band for unlicensed use.
As a consequence, a slew of Wi-Fi 6E hardware is on its way. That’s coming regardless of whether our government keeps the 6GHz band free. You won’t be able to make full use of it if Radio Spectrum Management is swayed by the telcos.
New Zealand is not the only country lagging behind these leaders in making a decision. In June, Europe set aside the lower 480 MHz of the band for unlicensed use but held off on a decision about the rest of the 6GHz band.
That’s similar to today’s position in New Zealand.
An international ITU World Radio Communications conference is supposed to debate the issue and help align policies around the world. The problem with that is the conferences take place every four years. The next one is two years away. By then hardware companies will be preparing Wi-Fi 7 equipment.