Earlier this month, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) conditionally approved 13 proposed automated frequency coordination (AFC) systems to develop operations for the 6 GHz band.
Federated Wireless was among those 13 and says it’s unique in that it’s already engaged in commercial agreements with “leading,” though unnamed, unlicensed radio equipment manufacturers. These deals will enable access for standard power and outdoor Wi-Fi 6E devices to the 6 GHz band.
Jennifer McCarthy, VP of Legal Advocacy at Federated Wireless, described the deals as a “handful” and confirmed they aren’t yet naming names because they don’t have authorization to do so.
One of them is known, however. Last year, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, revealed that it signed a multi-year partnership to use Federated Wireless’ AFC service for future outdoor, higher power and ruggedized radio products in the 6 GHz band.
Besides Federated, the other AFC systems that won conditional approval are Broadcom, Google, Comsearch, Sony Group, Kyrio, Key Bridge Wireless, Nokia Innovations, Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi Alliance, Qualcomm, Plume Design and RED Technologies.
The AFC systems will be used to protect existing licensed incumbents, such as fixed microwave links. AT&T and Verizon are among the incumbents, as well as utilities and others, that use it for backhaul.
There’s still a ways to go, however, before the AFC systems will be up and running, enabling these standard power and outdoor devices. Stadiums, airports, university campuses and coffee shops are a few examples of the kinds of outdoor venues that will host them.
Since the AFC applicants submitted their bids about a year ago, the standards development organizations, including the Wi-Fi Alliance and WInnForum, have been busy working with incumbents and the unlicensed device community to come up with test plans for lab certifications, McCarthy said. They’re in the final stages and could publish their work in the next couple of weeks.
After that, a public trial period will ensue to make sure everything works as advertised and to give incumbent licensees the chance to submit coordinates near their microwave receivers to verify that AFC systems provide adequate protection, according to the FCC’s Public Notice.
Less complicated than CBRS
Federated Wireless also is a Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrator for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band, and a lot of the same building blocks go into being an AFC provider, McCarthy said.
However, the SAS is more complicated in part because it’s calculating aggregate interference of new users to incumbents. With AFCs, it’s what they call a single-entry analysis and the AFCs don’t need to talk to one another. “It’s a lighter touch dynamic spectrum management system,” she said.
AFC is a somewhat more specific term for the dynamic spectrum management system (DSMS) used in the 6 GHz band, but the industry is trying to promote DSMS as a more generic term because it’s highly anticipated that AFC-like systems will be used in other bands.
In the U.S., the FCC recently launched a proceeding on the 13 GHz band and spectrum sharing is part of that. There’s also been discussion about whether a sort of AFC could be extended to the 7 GHz band, which is currently occupied by federal systems that are similar to those in the 6 GHz band.
In addition, there’s the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, which is another Department of Defense (DoD) band where there have been discussions over whether some combination of AFC or SAS might be used; that’s where the concept of a more generic DSMS was created – in the context of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, McCarthy said.
There’s also the Incumbent Informing Capability (IIC) for time-based spectrum sharing that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has pursued.
All of these efforts represent different flavors but they’re all going in the same general direction of more spectrum sharing strategies, McCarthy said.
One of the reasons Wi-Fi is so successful is the size of the global market; that creates economies of scale and reduces costs for the radios to be incorporated into many devices.
So far, Wi-Fi has relied heavily on the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, but those get crowded quickly and performance degrades when too many people use Wi-Fi in the same location, often in urban areas, McCarthy noted.
In 2.4 and 5 GHz, “we’re really talking about 10-megahertz and 20-megahertz wide channels,” and in Wi-Fi 6 and 6 GHz, “we’re talking 40-, 80- and 160-megahertz wide channels,” which will make a spectacular difference in throughput and latency, she said. With Wi-Fi 7, “we’re talking all the way up to 320-megahertz wide channels.”
For Federated Wireless, the international implications could be quite lucrative. Canadian regulators are moving to publish final 6 GHz rules that look similar to those in the U.S. Brazil is about to launch a consultation process for AFC in 6 GHz. In Saudi Arabia, Federated Wireless and Aruba staged a demonstration showing regulators an end-to-end AFC system using Wi-Fi 6E standard power access points.
Other Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries are engaged in the effort to bring standard power devices to their regions, according to Federated. “We’re excited to continue working with countries around the world,” she said.