At its next open meeting on Oct. 23, the FCC will consider a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to allow new unlicensed uses in the 6 GHz band—one that has emerged to provide what’s likely the fastest route to relief for the highly congested Wi-Fi community.
The prospects for getting more unlicensed spectrum are better than ever now that the FCC chose to move ahead to the NPRM stage for 6 GHz—but it wasn't always a foregone conclusion that the FCC was going to evaluate the entire 1200 megahertz, from 5.925 all the way up to 7.125 GHz, said Cisco’s Mary Brown, senior director of technology and spectrum policy.
“We worked very hard to encourage them to do so,” and Cisco and others in the industry are delighted the FCC chose to look at the entire 1200 megahertz, she told FierceWirelessTech.
Cisco Systems is part of an 11-company coalition that has been lobbying the FCC to open up the 6 GHz band for new unlicensed services. Apple, Broadcom, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel, Marvell Technology Group, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Ruckus Networks are also on board.
The origins of the 6 GHz band actually go back to the 5 GHz band. Cisco’s Wi-Fi equipment for the enterprise space operates exclusively in the 5 GHz band—Cisco doesn’t make consumer-grade equipment for the type of Wi-Fi that uses the 2.4 GHz band. Attempts have been made for years to get more spectrum opened up for Wi-Fi, but those efforts, especially in the 5.9 GHz band, have mostly stalled.
Meanwhile, the applications and overall demand for Wi-Fi continue to grow, and congestion is becoming a problem in the 5 GHz band.
“We’re starting to see early evidence of congestion in certain environments and that’s only going to get worse over time,” Brown said. The reason 6 GHz is so appealing is it’s close to 5 GHz, so the propagation characteristics are well understood and it’s similar to 5 GHz. It's also easier to manage the hardware migration, rather than trying to conform to an entirely different band somewhere else.
Assuming things go as expected and the FCC moves ahead on the 6 GHz NPRM, there will be time for the industry to submit more comments. “We’re hopeful, if we really roll up our sleeves and do a lot of good work, we can put the FCC in a position to make a decision sometime late in 2019. That would be ideal,” she said.
If that were to transpire and the FCC is able to make a decision in late 2019, it’s conceivable for equipment in the low power category to get certified around the middle of 2020. The higher power gear will be subject to further review by the commission and likely wouldn’t be ready as soon.
The industry has talked about using a Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) framework in the 6 GHz band, but there’s some key distinctions. In CBRS, the mechanism that’s responsible for enabling safe use of the radio spectrum in and around the Navy radars and other incumbents actually can control the devices.
For example, if a Navy radar pops up, the Spectrum Access System controller can order the devices in the area to change channels or frequencies. That kind of dynamic control over devices is probably overkill in the 6 GHz band, where things are more static and known, she said. That’s not to say there isn’t change going on in the band—there’s always that—but it’s not the same kind of set-up as what’s going on in the CBRS 3.5 GHz band.