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

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission decided Thursday 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 expects new, high-speed uses to emerge that will help secure U.S. leadership in advanced 5G services.

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

"This will be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. 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.

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

"It's as if we have been raised in the bicycle era" and now "we will get proper freeways," Figueroa said in an interview.

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

WifiForward, an advocacy group, said in an emailed statement that the FCC decision "will make it easier for people to stay productive and informed." The group represents companies including Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Microsoft Corp. and cable operators Comcast Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. It said the move will make connections faster and "supercharge" innovation.

Utilities use the 6 GHz airwaves to manage sprawling grids and pipelines, and have said allowing millions of wireless devices into the swath threatens to create interference that could jeopardize network reliability.

"There are so many devices," said Brett Kilbourne, general counsel of the Utilities Technology Council that advocates for the communications needs of utilities. "If we have to fix interference after it occurs, you can have all sorts of problems" including power blackouts.

The FCC said it intends to protect current users of the 6 GHz airwaves. Low-power routers can operate indoors without encumbrance, while higher-power devices indoors and outdoors need to check FCC databases to make sure they'll not interfere with nearby utilities infrastructure.

Business on 04/24/2020

Print Headline: FCC widens Wi-Fi airwaves access

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