FCC to open up 6 GHz band for unlicensed use – boon for WiFi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously today to open up all of the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, creating a new range of 1,200 MHz in the 5.925–7.125 (6 GHz) band for Wi-Fi services. This increases the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five.

The 6 GHz band is currently used by microwave services such as wireless backhaul, utilities and public safety applications. Unlicensed devices will share this spectrum with the incumbent services under rules crafted to protect those licensed services, the FCC said.

The FCC’s decision authorizes indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200 MHz and standard-power devices in 850 MHz in the 6 GHz band. An automated frequency coordination system will prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.

In 850 MHz of the band, the FCC will allow standard power unlicensed use under an automated frequency control (AFC) system to protect incumbent users. The entire band can be used for indoor unlicensed use at very low power without AFC, and the FCC is proposing a new class of devices that can operate indoors and outdoors across the entire band.

Unlicensed WiFi Forward has said that opening up the GHz band. combined with the FCC’s plan to free up 5.9 GHz spectrum, also for unlicensed WiFi, will add at least $183.44 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years.

Cable operators supported the proposal, while broadcasters argued for protecting the electronic news gathering (ENG) already using the band by reserving 80 MHz for them, saying there was too much risk of harmful interference to that even-more-crucial service in a time of pandemic.

  • FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly called it “a fantastic day for unlicensed services and the millions of Americans who use them.” He said that other than the 5.9 GHz slice, no other spectrum provided as great an opportunity given its proximity to the 5 GHz band that currently carries most of the WiFi load.  He strongly disagreed with those who said unlicensed didn’t need the entire band. In addition to broadcasters wanting a sliver reserved for ENG, wireless companies had suggested auctioning some of the upper portion of the band for licensed use.   “Today’s action is also very timely, as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of our WiFi systems in keeping those in isolation connected to the outside world,” he said.
  • FCC chairman Ajit Pai noted the pandemic had changed nearly every aspect of daily lives, with WiFi allowing for distance learning and virtual telehealth, and “stream Tiger King on Netflix.”  Pai said it was a bold step to increase the supply of WiFi spectrum, increasing midband spectrum for unlicensed by almost a factor of five. He said the item would help promote IoT but also insure incumbents are protected from harmful interference.
  • FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said that the pandemic may give a sense of what trasnformative innovations freeing up that spectrum could unleash, including two-way video connections to help students and teachers interact or virtual reality shopping from the safety of home.
  • FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the pandemic has ushered in remote work as never before, and WiFi has never been more important. “[W]ith this decision on unlicensed spectrum we do well by the law, we add more permissionless airwaves to the wireless economy, and we expand the democratizing force of having more WiFi in more places,” she said, adding an “amen.”
  • “Even for those who can’t afford the new equipment that will take advantage of the new spectrum and the latest iteration of WiFi, speeds for their devices should increase as existing WiFi traffic moves to the new spectrum,” said commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “Low-income consumers purchasing discounted broadband plans will realize the full benefits of their subscriptions, as the WiFi channels within their homes become less congested and data flows more freely. The new spectrum is also expected to spur new efforts by many broadband providers, retailers, restaurants, and others that offer free public WiFi access at hotspots across the nation.”

“Today the U.S. Federal Communications Commission forever altered the future of WiFi. Thanks to their action, a new generation of innovation is now possible,” said Scott Harwell, SVP at Cisco. “With today’s vote, the FCC authorized 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum to be opened for indoor WiFi use. This is a bold action, taken with deep knowledge of both the technology trajectory of WiFi and demand from consumers and businesses alike. Bold action is needed, as we are all discovering as we work from home, learn from home, and play at home – and stream more video than ever before. Those of us who helped build WiFi and who are responsible for its future send congratulations and thanks to the FCC. We promise to make good use of this resource.”

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The U.S. regulator started consulting on the plans in 2018, and equipment makers have already been preparing for the new band. The Wi-Fi Alliance expects the first access points for the new band will hit the market by Q4.

The industry group has given equipment working in the 6 GHz band the designation Wi-Fi 6E (IEEE 802.11ax) and expects to have the first such devices certified in early 2021. The alliance said its members have been quick to embrace the new band, with initial forecasts expecting more than 316 million Wi-Fi 6E devices will enter the market next year.

Benefits of Wi-fi 6 (802.11ax)

The FCC also opened a consultation on a proposal to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, in order to support high data rate applications such as wearables and mixed reality devices. The notice also seeks comment on increasing the power at which low-power indoor access points may operate.

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References:

https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-opens-6-ghz-band-wi-fi-and-other-unlicensed-uses

https://www.multichannel.com/news/fcc-opens-all-of-6-ghz-band-for-unlicensed

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

https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/what-is-wi-fi-6/

 

2 thoughts on “FCC to open up 6 GHz band for unlicensed use – boon for WiFi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax)

  1. Great summary, Alan. One of the more interesting things about WiFI 6E is an alternative for private LTE networks. Broadcom is touting fully scheduled traffic which they say will mean less than 1 ms latency. This is the type of latency needed for everything from gaming to virtual band performances to remote surgery.

    https://www.broadcom.com/info/wifi6e

  2. 2018 and 2019 technologies seem to be outdated in 2020. That implies WiFi versions prior to IEEE 802.11ax/WiFi6 are effectively obsolete. WiFi6 has the potential to be more successful than 5G- atleast in the next few years.

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