Advocates for more spectrum for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses got what they hoped for when the FCC unanimously agreed on a proposal to make up to 1200 megahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices in the 6 GHz band (5.925-7.125 GHz).
The Wi-Fi Alliance, which had been advocating for the FCC to quickly release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to permit use of the 6 GHz band for unlicensed operations, applauded the FCC’s action.
“The FCC took an important step towards preserving broadband wireless connectivity for millions of Americans and creating new opportunities for the next generation of Wi-Fi,” the alliance said in a statement.
The FCC said the proposed rules are designed to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band without interfering with the operation of the licensed services that will continue to use the spectrum.
In those portions of the 6 GHz band that are heavily used by point-to-point microwave links, the commission is proposing to allow unlicensed devices to operate where permitted by an automated frequency coordination system, and it’s asking for comments as to whether that's necessary for devices operated only indoors. In the other portions of the band where licensed mobile services such as the Broadcast Auxiliary Service and Cable Television Relay Service operate, the unlicensed devices would be restricted to indoor operations at lower power.
Cisco also applauded the move. “We are excited to have FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow Commissioners Michael O’Rielly, Jessica Rosenworcel, and Brendan Carr, consider a new policy on 6 GHz spectrum that, when completed, will generate benefits for nearly every person and organization in the U.S.,” said Mary Brown, senior director of technology and spectrum policy at Cisco, in a blog post.
“And kudos to our elected officials in Congress on both sides of the aisle—in particular Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune (R-SD), Representative Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA)—for supporting the FCC’s upcoming evaluation of Wi-Fi for our future.”
Cisco has found that Wi-Fi networks in the U.S. carry about half of all internet traffic, more than fixed connections or wireless connections over a carrier’s licensed spectrum. Its Visual Networking Index predicts that by 2021, 70% of the data generated on a smartphone will be “offloaded” to a Wi-Fi network.
Meanwhile, the Spectrum Needs Study sponsored by Wi-Fi Alliance projects that up to a gigahertz of new spectrum is needed to connect the 20 billion Wi-Fi devices that are used every day, according to Chris Szymanski, director, Product Marketing & Government Affairs at Broadcom, who also expressed his satisfaction with the FCC’s move.
“Time remains of the essence and we hope the FCC proceeds to a Report and Order quickly, featuring simple and flexible rules that will enable the industry to meet the American public’s pent-up Wi-Fi demand as soon as possible," Szymanski added.
Commissioners and FCC staff acknowledge there are a lot of incumbents in the 6 GHz band, but they're optimistic that a mechanism can work to accommodate both incumbents and new unlicensed use opportunities.
AT&T previously has pointed out that the band contains about 100,000 microwave links, many of which are carrying critical voice and data traffic, including for the nation’s first responders. AT&T was awarded the FirstNet contract last year to serve public safety with their own, dedicated LTE network.
Expanding broadband services to more Americans is one of AT&T’s highest priorities, and "we appreciate the Commission’s efforts to promote broader and more efficient use of spectrum to reach this goal," said Joan Marsh, AT&T executive vice president of Regulatory & State External Affairs, in a statement. "We look forward to commenting on today’s proposal to allow unlicensed use (PDF) of the 6 GHz band, while protecting existing users from harmful interference. And we are encouraged by the progress being made by industry to develop a sharing proposal with the unlicensed community that ultimately could allow coexistence of Wi-Fi-type devices and microwave links. But it is imperative that any unlicensed use must be responsible for avoiding interference with the existing, mission-critical uses of this band.”