By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to adopt new rules to open a new chunk of spectrum for Wi-Fi use as the number of devices is expected to rapidly increase.
The FCC voted to make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use and help usher in Wi-Fi 6, the next generation expected to be over 2-1/2 times faster than the current standard.
Wi-Fi allows people to access the internet but also connects devices like thermostats, baby monitors, refrigerators, televisions and washing machines to networks.
The commission is also exploring whether low-power devices can use the band like "accessibility technology for Americans with disabilities, virtual reality gaming, augmented reality glasses, in-vehicle systems, and other emerging technologies," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.
Tech firms support the action. Facebook Inc FB.O said the move "comes at a critical time to enhance Internet connectivity and will complement 5G deployment."
Some companies, including utilities and network users, have raised concerns about interference from the additional Wi-Fi use.
AT&T Inc T.N said that "the FCC’s order will allow the introduction of devices that can impair, or even knock out, links in the networks that monitor our electric grid, enable first responders to communicate and provide mobile broadband services to millions of Americans, particularly in rural areas."
The Utilities Technology Council said the "FCC appears to have decided on taking a much riskier approach that does not control low-power indoor operations."
Pai said he was confident that utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul operations currently using the band will be protected from interference.
FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the spectrum is expected "to spur new efforts by many broadband providers, retailers, restaurants, and others that offer free public Wi-Fi access at hot spots across the nation."
Comcast Corp CMCSA.O said the order "will dramatically improve Wi-Fi performance and capacity, and will protect existing users of the spectrum." Amazon.com Inc AMZN.O said the FCC order "paves the way to a more innovative future and will allow us to deliver a smarter, faster, and more convenient customer experience."
The National Association of Broadcasters said it was disappointed in the vote, saying the FCC "shockingly forgoes any independent analysis that interference won’t be too bad or happen too often. This ‘fingers crossed’ approach is bad policy and not what is required under law."
Unlicensed spectrum is expected to handle 70% of traffic as 5G use expands.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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