Steve Balderson

Wireless industry hails FCC spectrum announcement as game changer for Wi-Fi 6

Proposed opening of the 6GHz band to Wi-Fi 6 technology in US set to provide more capacity than all other current Wi-Fi bands put together

In a boost for the development of Wi-Fi 6 services in the country, US telecoms and broadcast regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has circulated draft rules permitting unlicensed devices to operate in the 6GHz band.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s (pictured above, centre) proposed rules would make 1,200MHz of spectrum available for use for unlicensed devices, which would share the spectrum with incumbent licensed services under rules crafted to protect the latter and to support both wireless operation types. US businesses have lobbied the FCC for such regulation, trying to persuade the commission that such a large unlicensed allocation with seven 160MHz channels would have a dramatic impact.

If adopted, the draft Report and Order would authorise two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power operations in 850MHz of the band, and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200MHz available in the 6GHz band. In a nod to operators, the FCC assured that an automated frequency coordination system would prevent standard-power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.

A Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6GHz band to support high-data-rate applications, including high-performance, wearable, augmented reality and virtual reality devices. Specifically, the further notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200MHz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices, and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.

Pai’s draft rules will be voted on by the commission at the FCC’s open meeting on 23 April. Commenting on the proposals, Pai said: “From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded. That trend will only continue. Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi 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 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. 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.”

As Pai was making his statement, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that while he welcomed the new move, he remained fully committed to identifying other mid-bands for licensed services. “Simply put, US 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,” he remarked. This effort is absolutely vital to preserving US leadership in wireless technology and to alleviate the demands being placed on existing networks.”

Yet by far the most enthusiasm was expressed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) – the trade association set up to enable collaboration between service providers, technology companies and organisations in the wireless industry whose members include Cisco and Boingo – which proclaimed the move as a game changer for global Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6 in particular.

“This new band would provide more capacity than all the other Wi-Fi bands put together,” said WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues. “If approved, it would prove critical for overcrowding on many Wi-Fi networks, especially in light of the volumes of bandwidth-hungry corporate traffic recently pushed onto home networks due to Covid-19. This is one of the reasons we have been working closely with members on initial trials of Wi-Fi 6E. The proposed release of the 6GHz band would mean that we can generate multi-gigabit speeds and low-latency connections to deliver advanced mobile services to consumers, business and industry.”

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