FCC chair announces plan to free up airwaves for better WiFi

January 9, 2013

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced a plan to free up a large chunk of airwaves to bolster WiFi across the nation.

In a speech at the International Consumer Electronics Show, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the plan would free up 195 megahertz in the 5 gigahertz band, airwaves between broadcast channels. That spectrum isn’t being used and could be better applied to feed the nation’s voracious mobile device use.

“As this spectrum comes on line, we expect it to relieve congested WiFi networks at major hubs like convention centers and airports,” Genachowski said. “ It will also help in homes as tablets and smartphones proliferate and video use rises.”

He said the plan would speed up WiFi networks by 35 percent and would mark the nation’s biggest release of unlicensed airwaves — spectrum that isn’t auctioned to commercial wireless carriers — since 2003.

Mobile device users often rely on WiFi networks, especially in cities where there is too much congestion. The FCC is in the process of also setting up another auction of broadcaster airwaves that will boost 4G networks.

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Cecilia Kang is a national technology reporter, writing about tech and Internet policies at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission and how regulations affect businesses and consumers.
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