Verizon is urging the FCC to allow higher power access points to operate in the unlicensed 6 GHz band, making it easier for operators to use the band for 5G services.
Verizon operates wireless backhaul services across the country using fixed service (FS) licenses in the 6 GHz band, and it supports the introduction of unlicensed devices in the band, so long as they’re subject to an interference protection regime like automated frequency coordination (AFC).
But it would really like the FCC to allow higher power for unlicensed standard-power 6 GHz access points already subject to AFC.
The FCC in April adopted a Report and Order that authorized two different types of unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band. One of them relates to indoor low-power access points across the entire 6 GHz band; that will be ideal for connecting devices in homes and offices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and IoT gadgets.
The other is the type that Verizon referenced in its June 25 petition for reconsideration (PDF)—the standard-power access points using an AFC that will help operators extend capacity. The FCC said these access points can be deployed anywhere as part of hotspot networks, rural broadband deployments or network capacity upgrades where needed.
But Verizon argues that the power levels as adopted are not sufficient to integrate wideband 6 GHz unlicensed operations into 5G systems. The company is urging the commission to increase the maximum permitted EIRP in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 bands from 36 dBm to 42 dBm while leaving unchanged the maximum power spectral density of 23 dBm/MHz.
Verizon has the least amount of mid-band spectrum of all the big national carriers. According to Allnet Insight, Verizon has 115 megahertz of sub-6 GHz spectrum compared with AT&T’s 175 megahertz and T-Mobile’s 324 megahertz. While Verizon is expected to bid in the upcoming mid-band CBRS 3.5 GHz and the C-band auctions, analysts at Wells Fargo Securities surmise that the C-band spectrum won’t be clear until late 2021 or early 2022 at the earliest.
Given its disadvantaged mid-band spectrum position, it’s no wonder that Verizon is looking to use the 6 GHz band for 5G, and it can do so with 5G NR, the unlicensed version of the 5G standard that is expected to be completed later this week.
“For wireless providers, 5G New Radio—Unlicensed (5G NR-U) offers great potential to work together with 5G to alleviate capacity constraints by integrating unlicensed spectrum into 5G networks,” Verizon told the commission “5G NR-U is especially attractive in areas with high capacity demand or where the capacity of the licensed bands has been exhausted.”
Importantly, however, 5G NR-U will use wide bandwidth channels, such as 80 GHz or 100 GHz or more, a critical point when considering what power limits are necessary to ensure that 5G NR-U or other wideband technologies can be efficiently deployed, Verizon said.
However, the existing power limits on overall power tend to penalize wide-bandwidth technologies such as 5G NR-U, even though the FCC’s Report and Order finds that unlicensed operations across the 6 GHz band “will help to secure U.S. leadership in the next generation of wireless services” and may serve to “complement new licensed 5G services,” the operator said.
Verizon argues that a 35 dBm power limit will unnecessarily relegate wideband systems to coverage areas substantially smaller than those of narrowband systems and this reduced coverage will make 5G NR-U deployments much more expensive for operators as they’ll be required to deploy more small cells to achieve their desired service areas.
In fact, a 6 dB increase in EIRP will double the linear coverage and quadruple the geographic area coverage achievable compared with deployments subject to the rules adopted in the FCC’s Report and Order, according to Verizon.
CTIA: U.S. faces growing mid-band deficit
Verizon also said that while its petition focuses only on AFC issues, it firmly endorses CTIA’s petition seeking reconsideration of the decision not to pursue flexible-use licensing in the upper portion of the 6 GHz band.
Up until the FCC issued its order, CTIA lobbied for clearing and licensing a portion of the band, and it continues to do so. While the FCC has made strides in freeing up new licensed spectrum for 5G, the U.S. faces a growing mid-band deficit, even accounting for the 350 megahertz in the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz (C-band) spectrum to be auctioned this year, according to CTIA.
The commission recognizes the urgent need for more licensed mid-band spectrum, but it “inexplicably” decided to give the full 1,200 megahertz in the 6 GHz band to unlicensed uses, according to CTIA (PDF).
CTIA also told the FCC to reconsider its power limits for 6 GHz access points operating under AFC, saying that limiting the power limits will constrain wider-area deployments. An effective AFC mechanism can protect incumbent FS links and allow standard-power access points to operate at higher power levels, which will enable wide-area coverage, the association said.