Q&A: What the FCC's Wi-Fi Expansion Means for You

Mobile devices like the iPhone 5 are embracing the 5 GHz band, and that trend will expand as 802.11ac radios become prevalent even on smartphones starting in 2013.

By John Cox
Wed, January 23, 2013

Network World

FCC
Mobile devices like the iPhone 5 are embracing the 5 GHz band, and that trend will expand as 802.11ac radios become prevalent even on smartphones starting in 2013.

For more information on this band, and 11ac, check these links:

FAQ: iPhone 5 and 5GHz Wi-Fi

Fast 11ac adoption seen for smartphones

Resources for 802.11ac 'Gigabit' Wi-Fi

The FCC announced a New Year's Wi-Fi gift during the International CES show earlier this month: a proposal to dramatically expand the unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz frequency band for use by Wi-Fi devices. The announcement comes as a growing number of vendors are announcing products that will support the "Gigabit Wi-Fi" 802.11ac standard A in 2013.

To find out the implications of FCC's plan, we talked with Matthew Gast, director of product management for Aerohive Networks (he's responsible for the software powering Aerohive's controllerless access points). He's the author most recently of "802.11n: A Survival Guide."

Gast blogged, enthusiastically and gratefully, after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the spectrum move, even admitting he had an "engineer-crush" on the chairman as a result.

So, does Genachowski know you have an engineer crush on him?

I don't think so. What I didn't put in the blog is that I was [once] at the FCC supporting a technical board meeting. The chairman came in and spent two hours with us, an amazing amount of time. I introduced myself to him, and I'm sure he has no idea who I am. When I saw him, I thought "I hope I look that good when I get to his age." [Genachowski is 50.]

In your blogpost, you say the FCC is adding 195 MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi. For us non-spectrum-geeks, is that a lot?

The FCC is saying that it's 35% more spectrum. That sounds like a nice number. What I then did was made some educated guesses about the number of 20-MHz channels this would add to the 5-GHz band. And if you look at the channels, it's actually 60% more spectrum.

How do you figure?

The "existing" 5 GHz channels - before the new FCC announcement -- were these: 22 20-MHz-wide channels in three bands.

[Gast's technical breakdown is as follows:

5.17 - 5.33 MHz: 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64

5.49 - 5.725 MHz (these are the Dynamic Frequency Selection channels, which Wi-Fi radios must avoid if they're used by weather or other radars): 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 132, 136, 140, 144

5.735 - 5.835 MHz: 149, 153, 157, 161, 165]

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