Qualcomm: 6 GHz is the ideal home for next-generation 802.11, 5G NR-U technologies

Qualcomm booth
Qualcomm will conduct another demonstration of 5G NR spectrum sharing technologies at its booth at Mobile World Congress next week. (FierceWireless)

Given the success it’s seeing with LAA, it’s no wonder Qualcomm is pursuing a similar concept for 5G, asking the FCC to designate a portion of the 6 GHz band to serve as a playpen of sorts for slick new technologies that incorporate synchronization and unlicensed spectrum.

LAA, which stands for Licensed Assisted Access, is a technology that uses a combination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum. It was developed for LTE, but it was introduced relatively late to the game in one of the last releases for LTE. That said, major carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have been using LAA to supplement their networks and deliver speedier services. (Notably, LAA came after LTE-U, the nonstandardized version of the technology that sparked controversy when it was first proposed because the Wi-Fi community was concerned it wouldn’t play nice with Wi-Fi.)

3GPP Release 16—to be finalized later this year—will include an LAA version of 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum (5G NR-U) that relies on a licensed anchor, as well as a standalone version of 5G NR-U that can be used by carriers and/or any entities that don’t control any licensed spectrum of their own.

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These technologies will share spectrum with others based on a spatial model, rather than time, and they can do so in a way the produces much better user experiences, according to Dean Brenner, SVP, Spectrum Strategy and Technology Policy at Qualcomm. There’s a catch, however: The users need to be synchronized.

What Qualcomm proposes in a Feb. 15 filing (PDF) is for a portion of the 6 GHz band—such as the proposed U-NII-7 band at 6.525-6.875 GHz—to give priority to systems that are capable of doing this type of synchronization. The approach would allow synchronized systems in the same geographic area to use the same piece of spectrum at the same time without mutually blocking each other, which can occur in asynchronous systems. It’s not advocating for special preference for any given technology, just ones that can coexist using this synchronization.

Qualcomm is proposing that this happen in just a 350-megahertz sliver of the band—the FCC is pondering rules for 1200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band—and points out that a broad cross section of stakeholders are working on these types of new technologies, including those from the Wi-Fi industry. In fact, Qualcomm notes in the filing that there’s an IEEE version being developed, known as 802.11be (EHT), that also is being designed using these principles and delivering significant benefits in terms of spectrum efficiency.

It’s early days, but Brenner said he’s hopeful that, since LAA has worked so well and everyone wants the U.S. to be in a leadership position in 5G, the proposal will be well received. “We’re very optimistic that the reaction to what we’re asking for will be very positive,” he told FierceWirelessTech, noting that the idea is to optimize the spectrum for a better technology.

“We want this to support the up-and-coming generation of Wi-Fi, 802.11be,” so hopefully the folks behind that will see that this approach will help the next generation of Wi-Fi as well as NR-U, added John Kuzin, vice president and regulatory counsel at Qualcomm.

Qualcomm conducted a demo of the technology at last year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and will be bringing a more refined version to its booth at this year’s show next week. Prototype devices—not smartphones yet—will be used to show how these techniques will make the user experience better than without them.

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