WiFi devices allowed to use airwave band

Regulators voted to let fast WiFi devices use a broad swath of airwaves, delivering a win for tech companies such as Google and Facebook and a setback to utilities that use the frequencies to control pipelines and electric grids.

The Federal Communications Commission decided to let the airwaves band known as 6 gigahertz be used by phones, tablets, wearables and other consumer electronics as well as industrial sensors for manufacturing. The agency said it anticipates new, high-speed uses will emerge that will help secure U.S. leadership in advanced 5G services.

The agency approved the change in a 5-to-0 vote during its monthly meeting, which was held online.

“This will be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. The agency under his leadership has pushed to rearrange airwaves uses, finding places on the spectrum where assignments made years ago can be modified to accommodate the booming demand for mobile signals.

WiFi, which routes signals to wired networks, already carries the bulk of mobile-phone traffic. The newly available airwaves will expand frequencies available to WiFi sixfold, and uses will expand substantially, said Edgar Figueroa, president of Wi-Fi Alliance, with members including chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm.

Devices using the airwaves could come to market this year, with 300 million or more produced next year, Figueroa said.

— Bloomberg News


Federal judge approves

GM ignition settlement

General Motors on Thursday won preliminary U.S. court approval of a $120 million settlement with owners who said defective ignition switches caused their vehicles to lose value.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman in New York granted approval at a hearing conducted by phone.

The accord would resolve the last major piece of litigation over GM ignition switches blamed for vehicles stalling and air bags failing to deploy linked to 124 deaths.

Final approval is still required, after owners are notified of their rights.

Since 2014, the defect has led GM to recall more than 2.6 million Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles, dating back more than a decade.

The Detroit-based automaker has also paid more than $2.6 billion in penalties and settlements.

GM would fund $70 million of the settlement, while a trust set up in connection with its 2009 bankruptcy would contribute $50 million. The automaker would pay the plaintiffs’ lawyers separately.

— Reuters

Also in Business

U.S. new-home sales plunged 15.4 percent in March as a winding down in the middle of the month because of the novel coronavirus began to rattle the breadth of the housing market. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that sales of new single-family homes dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 627,000 last month after sales had fallen 4.6 percent in February. The decline was expected, though economists say it will grow much worse as the country struggles with a shutdown that has thrown millions of people out of work and disrupted wide swaths of the economy.

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel made his first investment in Atai Life Sciences, a German start-up that's looking into ways of using certain mushrooms and other psychedelics to treat mental-health disorders. Thiel was among several participants in a $24 million convertible-note sale that closed in March, Atai said in a statement. Atai is studying how to use psychedelics to treat disorders including addiction, depression and anxiety.

Nestle, the world's largest food company, said it's willing to pay factory and distribution workers for at least 12 weeks if their workplaces are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nestle is struggling to keep up with high demand for essential food and drink items as it faces obstacles that slow down production. It is expected to report first-quarter sales Friday.

— From news services

Coming today

8:30 a.m.: Commerce Department releases durable goods for March.

Earnings: American Express.