UWB group links 6 GHz plan to coronavirus fight

Apple iPhone
Apple's iPhone 11 is one of the more visible products to support the UWB short-range protocol. (Pixabay)

The UWB Alliance doesn’t like the idea of giving Wi-Fi “free reign” over the 6 GHz band, saying doing so could be a “death sentence” for next-gen medical devices and critical infrastructure safety technologies at a time they’re needed most.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears to be on a trajectory where it will allow unlicensed Wi-Fi devices to use the entire 6.-7.2 GHz band at power levels “four thousand times higher than currently allowed for license-exempt operations,” the UWB Alliance said. “This move would drown out all existing unlicensed 6 GHz devices – including next-gen medical devices used in hospital settings for respiration tracking and pose serious interference issues with critical infrastructure technologies.”

The 6 GHz band is the subject of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) at the FCC. As seems to be the norm of late, anything could change, but the commission has been expected to consider the NPRM at its April meeting. The band is seen as ideal for badly needed spectrum for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi.  

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“We are big fans of Wi-Fi,” said Timothy Harrington, executive director of the UWB Alliance, whose members include the likes of Zebra, uBlox, Denso and OPPO. “We’re not saying don’t do Wi-Fi.” But, like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) argues (PDF), the alliance believes the power levels as proposed by the NPRM will be disruptive to important and critical services.

Harrington said everybody is aware of the use of Wi-Fi, but ultra wideband (UWB) technology is kind of invisible to most people. Apple supports UWB in the iPhone 11, one of the most visible products where it's used.

Others are using UWB to monitor the vital signs of people diagnosed with COVID-19 (The UWB member company with knowledge of it could not speak publicly about it for confidentiality reasons, according to Harrington.)

RELATED: UWB Alliance to focus on interoperability, further boosting the UWB ecosystem

The issue for UWB is the 6 GHz band is the most common place for it to operate in the U.S. While the FCC’s proposal calls for protecting incumbents in the band, the alliance doesn’t think it’s going far enough. Wi-Fi advocates say their usage in the band will be very low power (VLP), but to the UWB crowd, the power level is not low enough.

RELATED: UWB Alliance cites ‘grave concerns’ about proposed power levels in 6 GHz band

What the UWB Alliances proposes (PDF) is to allow operation of VLP Wi-Fi in spectrum up to 6.425 GHz for UNII band devices as long as the device out of band emission (OOBE) is maintained at a level comparable to the OOBE required in other recent rulings. Above 6.425 GHz, it proposes to open up and harmonize the current UWB rules with extremely low power (ELP) for Wi-Fi to allow ELP (-31.3 dB/MHz) for 6.425 to 7.2 GHz.

In materials distributed Wednesday, the alliance also said "it's a certainty" that if the FCC moves forward with its current plan to give Wi-Fi free reign over the 6 GHz spectrum, the rollout would be placed on hold indefinitely as expensive and lengthy litigation would ensue from the impacted industries. 

RELATED: Tech giants challenge AT&T’s assessment of 6 GHz band for unlicensed use

CTIA is lobbying hard for a portion of the 6 GHz band to be designated for licensed uses, an idea that goes “from bad to worse,” Harrington said.

Earlier this week, CTIA pointed (PDF) to a new report by Analysys Mason that concludes the U.S. is “far behind” 13 other benchmark nations in terms of licensed mid-band spectrum currently available. CTIA says the FCC should not “squander” the chance to resolve the mid-band issue for 5G in the U.S. by designating the entire 1,200 megahertz at 6 GHz for unlicensed use.