In a win for big tech companies like Apple, Google and Meta, the FCC last week voted to open the 6 GHz band to a new class of very low power (VLP) devices, fostering an ecosystem for new augmented and virtual reality devices.
In proposing the move, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel pointed to “countless innovations” that are dependent on unlicensed spectrum and noted the 6 GHz band already improved the Wi-Fi that consumers rely on every day for work, school, entertainment and more.
The FCC said the new rules are careful to limit the devices – which include AR/VR glasses, wearable sensors and a variety of IoT devices – to very low power levels and subject them to other technical and operational requirements that permit the devices to operate while protecting incumbent licensed services that rely on the band.
For years, tech companies have been lobbying for more unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band. Last week, in a post on X, Google said Thursday’s vote by the FCC is a win for Pixel users and consumers as the band will now be available for high-speed peer-to-peer Wi-Fi communications.
In a statement emailed to Bloomberg, Meta’s VP of North America policy Kevin Martin said the company commends the FCC’s decision allowing companies like Meta to use new wireless technologies to build “the next wave of computing.”
The Wi-Fi Alliance said the FCC’s order enables a new era of Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi industry is eager to leverage the decision for the benefits of U.S. consumers and enterprises.
“Wi-Fi Alliance enthusiastically welcomes this decision, and the Wi-Fi industry stands ready to usher in a new category of devices,” said Wi-Fi Alliance VP of Worldwide Regulator Affairs Alex Roytblat in a statement provided to Fierce. “Under the new framework, millions of Americans will gain access to the fast-growing Very Low Power (VLP) device ecosystem and the next generation of use cases.”
The vote by the commission was unanimous, although Commissioner Nathan Simington registered fears the order doesn’t give adequate consideration to licensed incumbents concerned about lack of access to crucial data around interference simulations.
“If my fears bear fruit, the commission could find itself in the position of attempting to police interference rights in a heavily congested environment where it proves difficult, if not impossible, to enforce its rules,” he said. “If 6 GHz licensees are unable to identify the source of the interference, they will be unable to file a complaint with sufficient information to allow commission staff to conduct any enforcement.”
According to the FCC, the new rules authorize VLP operations in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 portions of the 6 GHz band totaling 850 megahertz of spectrum. Operations at power levels significantly lower than other unlicensed 6 GHz devices could occur anywhere, indoors or outdoors, without the need for a frequency coordination system.
The commission also proposed expanding operation of these VLP unlicensed devices to the remainder of the 6 GHz band and permitting VLP devices more operational flexibility through higher power levels subject to a geofencing system that provides interference protection to licensed incumbent operations in the band.