The Past and Future of WiFi: How The FCC’s Junk Saved The Mobile Internet

Date: Friday, September 25


Join us for a discussion on the history of WiFi and the role it plays in everyone’s mobile data usage. Our panel will explain how clever engineers developed WiFi in a backwater band of spectrum that the FCC set aside in the 80’s for “junk” common household appliances like cordless phones, microwave ovens, garage door openers and baby monitors. This junk band was unique in that the FCC did not require an application to use the spectrum nor did it require a license (i.e. unlicensed). This “permissionless” use of the spectrum was completely different from the government’s traditional top-down spectrum allocation and assigned use method. When bandwidth-hungry smartphones were introduced WiFi provided a critical spigot to offload data from the traditional mobile networks. That trend continues today. The viral success of WiFi on the unlicensed junk band showed the FCC a new way to approach spectrum allocation which it has been implementing for several years. Our panel will finish with a discussion of upcoming FCC spectrum initiatives including a short conversation of the opportunities and challenges facing FCC unlicensed spectrum including uncertainties surrounding proposed deployment of LTE-U.



  • Paula Boyd, Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs, Microsoft (bio)
  • Fred Campbell, Executive Director, Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology, moderator(bio)
  • Larra Clark, Office for Information Technology Policy, American Library Association (bio)
  • John Hunter, Director, Spectrum Policy, T-Mobile (bio)
  • David Young, Vice President, Public Policy, Verizon (bio)