Spectrum regulators are engaged in ongoing lobbying and policy debates around the future of the 6 GHz band, with the aim of determining the most optimal approach for its allocation. The 6 GHz band is a newly available frequency ra­nge that offers operators a substantial bandwidth of 1200 MHz spectrum. The band is often bifurcated into two parts: 5925-6425 MHz, or the lower band, and 6425-7125 MHz, the upper band. The de­cision involves determining whether to make the 6 GHz band unlicensed in order to increase access to Wi-Fi services, or to license it, whereby  additional spectrum is allocated to mobile network operators (MNOs) for the delivery of faster 5G services. A third alternative is the light-touch shared licensing model, wherein a part of the spectrum is designated as unlicensed and the other part as licensed.

Industry interest is split between these ap­proaches. MNOs and Wi-Fi service pr­o­viders contend that allocating the entire 1200 MHz for their respective industries will yield broad societal benefits. Un­li­censing of the spectrum has also garnered support from tech giants, with some ac­ti­vely exploring opportunities in the public Wi-Fi hotspot segment.

A look at the key points in the global debate around the 6 GHz band and regulatory decisions in this space…

Cellular industry standpoint

The mobile communication industry ad­vo­cates for the allocation of the upper band (6425-7125 MHz) for international mobile telecommunications (IMT). Fur­ther­more, the lower band (5925-6425 MHz) should be considered for licensed 5G deployment or be licence-exempt on a technology-neutral basis. The key arguments raised by the industry are:

Network requirements

Industry analysts project that mobile networks will require an average of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum per country by 2030. Some countries are considering the 3.8-4.2 GHz band as an option. However, even with the utilisation of all other available mid-band spectrums, it is not feasible to meet the 2 GHz demand. Therefore, access to the 6 GHz band becomes imperative to meet network requirements.

Economic considerations

According to a study conducted by the GSMA on the economic advantages of 5G, it is projected that 5G could contri­bu­te approximately 0.68 per cent to global GDP by 2030. The benefits of 5G are in­tricately tied to its access to the spectrum, as it enables the provision of affordable and high-throughput services. The limited availability of spectrum in the 6 GHz band poses the risk of reducing the 2030 GDP impact of 5G to 0.42 per cent of the global GDP. This constraint could lead to increased capex and consumer tariffs for telecom companies, while also re­sulting in slower 5G network speeds. As a consequence, consumers will have to pay more while commerce that relies on the In­d­us­try 4.0 capabilities of 5G will be less competitive.  Furthermore, the tax reven­ue that the government will receive from 5G will eventually be lower. Licensing of the 6 GHz band for 5G can prevent this economic loss.

Sustainability and digital inclusion

Mobile networks are already highly densified, but 6 GHz can enable the growth of sustainable 5G capacity on existing sites. Timely availability of the 6 GHz band on reasonable conditions and prices will enable cost-efficient network deployment, help lower the broadband usage gap and support digital inclusion.

Wi-Fi industry’s case

The Wi-Fi industry advocates for the entire 6 GHz band to be made licence-exempt to enable new, high-bandwidth use cases, and overcome congestion and interference in the currently heavily used 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz unlicensed bands. Some of the main arguments proposed by the industry are:

Meeting capacity needs

Wi-Fi players assert that devices such as TVs and displays, laptops, home internet of things products, payment terminals, retail tills and industrial automation systems depend heavily on Wi-Fi. Additio­na­lly, home-based work and education rely on the stability and availability of Wi-Fi. However, many Wi-Fi networks currently experience network congestion and interference, highlighting the necessity for an expanded spectrum. Consequently, the 6 GHz band emerges as a highly suitable solution to fulfil these requirements.

Performance and latency

The features of Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 make newer 6 GHz networks better for data-intensive applications such as industrial controls, immersive/metaverse experiences and robotics.

Growing device ecosystem

In 2021, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced the new Wi-Fi 6E, designed to differentiate the latest generation of Wi-Fi 6 devices that possess the capability to operate in the 6 GHz frequency range. As the 6 GHz regulatory landscape evolves, Wi-Fi Alli­an­ce members continue to expand the Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem. Initial deployments in the band include Wi-Fi 6E consumer ac­c­ess points, smartphones and computers, and enterprise-grade access points. Wi-Fi 6E is projected to experience significant adoption in industrial environments. Such harmonisation would not only generate economies of scale but also produce a robust equipment market, ultimately benefiting businesses, consumers, and the overall economy.


Wireless operators propose that if sufficient 5G connections are made available within the 6 GHz band, they can be seamlessly offloaded to Wi-Fi networks in­doors. This also means that all devices can connect to Wi-Fi, making it a neutral platform without MNO-specific dependency.

Energy efficiency

The low energy requirements of Wi-Fi correlate with its major indoor use. Utili­sing unlicensed 6 GHz technologies that run at low power levels offers the opp­or­tu­nity for cellular networks to offload energy consumption and reduce the carbon footprint. Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 can connect to a building’s fibre broadband and reduce systemwide energy needs for both the network and user devices.

Furthermore, the Wi-Fi Alliance has asserted that the arguments put forth by the cellular industry are flawed. It suggests that ultimately, there is likely to be a need for more spectrum to effectively support 5G and future 6G networks, especially in areas with unique requirements. However, the argument for granting national or even citywide 6 GHz exclusive licences for public MNOs’ macro networks is weak. Instead, the focus should be on flexibility for indoor usage, localised campus networks for enterprises, or shared infrastructure-neutral hosts. These applications do not critically rely on the 6 GHz spectrum.

Global divergence

Across the western hemisphere, the majo­rity of countries are taking steps to open up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi us­age. In April 2020, the Federal Commu­ni­cations Commission (FCC) of the US allocated the entire 1200 MHz of spectr­um in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed us­age, making it the largest fleet of spectrum approved for Wi-Fi since 1989. Fo­llowing the FCC’s decision, several countries inclu­ding Cana­da, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and much of Latin America have adopted a similar app­roach. In contrast, China has opted to use the entire 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz ba­nd for IMT/5G purposes.

Up until now, the majority of countries have primarily allocated the lower portion of the 6 GHz band for licence-exempt ap­plications. This approach has been adopted by European Union member states, South Africa, the UAE, Mexico and the Russ­ian Federation. However, a few economies such as the UK, Japan, Norway, Australia, France and Germany are considering the allocation of the upper 700 MHz tranche for licensed IMT/5G use.

India’s position

India has recently entered the ongoing de­bate, fuelled in part by the government’s release of a 6G vision document in March 2023. The document proposes the delicensing of a portion of the 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi usage. However, this recommendation has garnered mixed reactions from different industry bodies. The Broadband India Forum (BIF) has pressed its demands for delicensing the spectrum to make broadband in rural and remote areas more affordable. According to the BIF, more unlicensed spectrum is required to meet the goal of having 50 million Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. In addition, big tech co­m­panies have emphasised that there are al­ready enough spectrum bands available for 5G and its future uses. Further, the In­ter­national Telecommuni­ca­tion Union-Asia Pacific Telecommunity Foundation of India has requested the government to follow global trends and delicense the 6 GHz sp­ectrum to support the PM-WANI and Atmanirbhar India programmes.

Meanwhile, the GSMA has urged the go­vernment to identify and support 6 GHz spectrum for the expansion of 5G services and cost-effective network dep­loy­ment throughout the country. The Ce­llular Operators Association of India (COAI) has also reiterated that this action will not only assist in long-term network planning but also become indispensable for mobile communications beyond 2025. According to the COAI, access to the mid-band in India is currently limited to 367 MHz in the 3.3-3.67 GHz band, and has been used to its maximum capacity. The 6 GHz band is the only mid-band spectrum range where a contiguous bandwidth of 300-400 MHz per MNO is possible.

The way forward

The use of the 6 GHz band is on the agenda of the upcoming International Te­le­­com­mu­nications Union’s World Radio­co­mmunication Conference (WRC) 2023. However, it must be highlighted that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the 6 GHz band allocation across different re­gions, particularly in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. It differs significantly in terms of ICT adoption and the digital di­vi­de compared to its counterpa­rts. Experts strongly advocate for APAC governments to allocate only the lower portion of the 6 GHz band for un­licensed usage while reserving the upper part for IMT services. This partitioning would en­sure and maximise the potential economic benefits de­rived from improv­ed IMT and Wi-Fi services. Full global harmonisation of the band can be pursued after WRC 2023.

Sarah Khan