FCC to vote April 23rd to open up 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum for WiFi

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote April 23rd on whether to free up 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum to unlicensed Wi-Fi 6 (aka IEEE 802.11ax) connections, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced saying the move would boost Wi-Fi speeds fivefold.
“The FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet,” Pai said today, “making the entire 6GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.”

The FCC noted that Pai’s draft order initially contemplates two classes of wireless transmissions making use of the 6 GHz band: indoor, low-power operations could use any frequency range within the 1,200 MHz spectrum, while standard power transmissions will be able to access 850 MHz of spectrum, while keeping away from previously permitted 6 GHz users.

Collectively, the 6 GHz channels add over two times more capacity to the FCC’s existing 480 MHz allocation of 5GHz spectrum. They will also give WiFi routers the flexibility to choose between a greater range of additional frequencies. Apart from decongesting existing network environments, including dense housing where multiple users and devices are competing for limited 2.4GHz or 5GHz spectrum, the 6 GHz frequencies might be used for high data rate applications, without the need to rely on shorter-distance millimeter wave spectrum. The FCC said today that it will seek public comments on allowing “very low-power devices” to access the full 1,200MHz of spectrum for “high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices.”

What is WiFi 6 and Is It Worth Waiting For?

“From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” said FCC Chairman Pai. “That trend will only continue. Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to WiFi by 2022. To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five. This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks. And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”

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Expert Opinions:

Wi-Fi advocates say the bands currently used for Wi-Fi – the 2.4 and 5 GHz – do not offer enough to meet projected demands. They also say that the 6 GHz band offers super-wide channels, which are needed to carry traffic from a bunch of devices simultaneously, as well as to increase speed. Companies like Amazon, Facebook and Apple are eyeing the band for new devices, including wearables and wireless AR/VR headsets.

”Consumer advocates commend the FCC for its pathbreaking spectrum-sharing order,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a statement. “Opening the entire 6 GHz band for low-power, gigabit-fast Wi-Fi in every home, school, and enterprise will accelerate the availability and affordability of next-generation applications and services nationwide. Even the fastest fiber broadband internet service is useless for consumers without the Wi-Fi spectrum needed to connect all of our laptops, tablets, and smartphones.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance praised today’s FCC announcement while underscoring the growing importance of Wi-Fi. “Ensuring necessary unlicensed spectrum access is critical for Wi-Fi,” it said, “which now more than ever keeps us connected, supports our communications infrastructure, and delivers major economic benefits.”

While many Alliance members offered positive comments on the FCC news, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf’s stood out as especially expansive regarding the 6 GHz spectrum’s potential.

“In February,we demonstrated a full suite of Wi-Fi 6E products ready to start using this large new swath of spectrum. We are also optimizing other exciting new technologies for this large swath of spectrum, including the next version of 5G and next generation Wi-Fi.”

A Qualcomm spokesperson noted that 5G NR-U  will be optimized to take advantage of the “massive amount of spectrum” in the 6 GHz band.

As expected, the proposed re-allocation of spectrum is being opposed by broadcasters, utilities and other companies that currently use the airwaves in question, known as the 6 gigahertz band, for beaming video signals or monitoring electric grids.

T-Mobile US Inc. and other telecommunications wireless carriers would also lose out. They had hoped to win exclusive rights to some of the airwaves as they build out cellular 5G networks.

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Conclusions:

FCC approval isn’t guaranteed as a result of the April 23rd vote, but it’s likely, as three of the five commissioners — including Pai — tend to vote in lock step. The Wi-Fi Alliance has said that 6GHz-compatible WiFi 6 devices will be ready to go relatively quickly after approval is finalized.

“Once all the rules are in place, products can move relatively quickly,” Blair Levin, an analyst at New Street Research, wrote in a note to his firm’s clients this week about the expected FCC move.

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Addendum – FCC Commissioner O’Rielly released the following statement on April 1st:

I am grateful that Chairman Pai has circulated an item to allow sharing between unlicensed services and incumbent providers in the 6 GHz band. Having worked for most of my professional career on unlicensed service issues and having taken on the lead advocate role for 6 GHz, I am extremely pleased that we have finally reached this point. It’s been a long and winding road.

Today’s item effectively concludes some of the substantive debates and will end some extraneous noise surrounding our approach. While I look forward to reading the specifics, it appears very consistent with my emphatic support for protecting incumbent users while permitting varied unlicensed services within the band.

Specifically, higher powered unlicensed services will be allowed in the band using a slimmed-down automated frequency coordination (AFC) regime, while low power indoor (LPI) use, which probably could use a closer review and improvements to its technical rules over the next couple weeks, will be allowed throughout the band without an AFC.

Although it initially settles on certain lower power limits for LPI use, the further notice will explore increasing these limits, as well as setting workable power limits and more specifics to effectuate very lower powered (VLP) unlicensed devices. “Over the last few years, I have heard from entrepreneurs and innovators discussing how dramatic the impact would be of unleashing such a large unlicensed allocation with seven 160 megahertz channels. I can’t wait to see, and use, the new services and ideas brought forward because of our work here.

Today’s action to permit all 1200 megahertz of the band to be used for unlicensed services means that proposals to license portions of the band were not accepted. I fully support this outcome, but I also remain fully committed to identifying other mid-bands for licensed services. Simply put, U.S. wireless providers must have more mid-band spectrum to meet consumer demand, and I will fight to refill the spectrum pipeline for future licensed wireless services.

This effort is absolutely vital to preserving U.S. leadership in wireless technology and to alleviate the demands being placed on existing networks. I firmly believe that the most likely candidate bands for this purpose are Federal spectrum allocations, such as the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band, that can be converted to commercial use.

I look forward to discussing this draft with interested parties in the coming weeks, and I will go out on a limb to predict a unanimous vote from my colleagues.

https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-363454A1.pdf

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April 23, 2020 UPDATE:

FCC to open up 6 GHz band for unlicensed use – boon for WiFi 6

References:

https://www.fcc.gov/document/chairman-pai-proposes-new-6-ghz-band-rules-unleash-unlicensed-use

FCC sets 6GHz Wi-Fi vote for April 23, opening door to Wi-Fi 6E

https://www.wsj.com/articles/fcc-moves-to-boost-wi-fi-speed-11585763721

https://www.fiercewireless.com/regulatory/fcc-sets-all-1-200-mhz-motion-for-6-ghz-unlicensed

 

 

 

One thought on “FCC to vote April 23rd to open up 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum for WiFi

  1. Alan, good summary. This was a topic of discussion at the WCA’s panel on unlicensed spectrum and several of the speakers echoed what FCC Commissioner O’Rielly said about the importance of multiple 160 MHz channels to maximize throughput. More spectrum for unlicensed uses is an area of agreement for Commissioners’ O’Rielly and Rosenworcel, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see this as 4 to 1 or even 5 to 0 vote.

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