As Americans work from home to promote social distancing and comply with stay-at-home orders, the demands on our broadband networks have never been greater. For instance, fixed broadband network use recently grew by 13% above the pre-pandemic baseline, while cellular data use increased by more than 16% last week. And cable companies are reporting increased consumer use of both Wi-Fi calling and Wi-Fi data.
Broadband providers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are meeting this challenge head-on. In April, the FCC voted unanimously to make more spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band. Unlicensed spectrum powers everything from your home Wi-Fi connection to drones, smart speakers, and virtual and augmented reality devices.
Perhaps more importantly, the FCC’s actions on 6 GHz will help lay the groundwork for broadband providers, using next-generation connectivity, to provide the services needed to help our country weather COVID-19 or similar crises. For example, CTA members Broadcom and Google both noted how increased Wi-Fi capabilities will help Americans connect to telemedicine and distance learning applications. And Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, is expected to bring more speed, more capacity and the ability to support more devices. CTA members including Qualcomm, Intel, and Broadcom are already demonstrating the enhanced capabilities of this new technology for remote learning, working and health care.
Across the country, tech companies large and small are playing a crucial role in helping Americans adapt to our “new normal.” CTA members Apple and Google, for example, announced a partnership to build a Bluetooth-based, opt-in contact tracing platform available to public health agencies to help these officials reduce the spread of COVID-19.
But as innovators develop life-changing technologies, policymakers must create an environment that fosters their development. Without enough spectrum in the pipeline, we face limitations on how quickly we can bring these ideas to life.
Additionally, the FCC is seeking input on allowing new forms of connectivity in the form of “very low power” devices. These technologies would enable new use cases such as sensor networks, mobile augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), Ultra-High Definition video streaming, accessibility solutions and high-speed tethering.
Consumers now rely on connectivity more than ever. By adopting policies that allow for flexibility and create market certainty, the government will help these innovations thrive.
Though the world looks drastically different today than it did in January, I am encouraged by the steps government and the private sector are taking to help Americans adapt to the changes. By increasing access to unlicensed spectrum, the FCC can further support the millions of people who are now working and learning from home, as well as the tech innovations that will help treat patients, test vaccines and track the virus. This is an action well worth taking.