Wi-Fi Alliance presses for modifications in 6 GHz rules

wifi (pixabay)
The propagation characteristics of the 6 GHz band are similar to those of the adjacent 5 GHz band that's already being used for Wi-Fi. (Pixabay)

For the most part, the Wi-Fi Alliance is stoked about the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which the FCC is examining ways to make up to 1200 megahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices in the 6 GHz band (5.925-7.125 GHz). But it's offering some ideas for modifications, saying its suggestions will ensure protection of incumbent operations while providing critically needed spectrum for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi.

The FCC released the NPRM last fall and posed a series of questions to industry stakeholders on a range of proposals to make it all work. The first round of comments was due on Friday.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said it supports the FCC’s proposal to divide the 6 GHz band into four sub-bands: the U-NII-5 (5.925-6.425 GHz), U-NII-6 (6.425-6.525 GHz), U-NII-7 (6.525-6.875 GHz) and U-NII-8 (6.875-7.125 GHz), based on the characteristics of incumbent services. The alliance also supports the commission’s proposal to regulate unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band based on a two-class approach, which differentiates between low-power, indoor-only (LPI) AP and standard-power AP devices.

Specifically, the alliance wants the FCC to consider allowing LPI AP operations across the entire 6 GHz band, including the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 bands, without an automatic frequency coordination requirement for those bands. It would also like to see the commission allow client devices that operate under the control of an AP to operate at the same power level as the AP (whether standard-power or LPI), among other things.

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According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the 6 GHz band is not only valuable for Wi-Fi, but it’s also critically needed.

“As with any wireless technology, Wi-Fi’s functionality depends on adequate access to spectrum,” said Alex Roytblat, senior director of regulatory affairs at the Wi-Fi Alliance, in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. “Currently, Wi-Fi’s performance, capabilities, and its role in the Nation’s telecommunications infrastructure and economy are threatened by the lack of sufficient spectrum access. 

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“To assess this threat, Wi-Fi Alliance commissioned a Spectrum Needs Study that analyzed current and future Wi-Fi spectrum requirements. Based on projected growth in demand for Wi-Fi, by 2025, up to 1500 megahertz of additional mid-band spectrum may be needed to sustain the Wi-Fi ecosystem,” he added.

Importantly, the 6 GHz band also offers contiguous spectrum blocks to accommodate 160 megahertz channels, which are required for high-bandwidth applications, such as high-definition video streaming and virtual reality. The next generation of Wi-Fi—which is based on IEEE 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6—is designed to support these high-data throughput applications.

“In short, the future of Wi-Fi and its ability to continue to deliver a desirable user experience, connectivity, economic value, and many other benefits depends on access to the entire 6 GHz band,” Roytblat said.    

As Wi-Fi Now reported last week, the IEEE 802.11 working group has determined that only Wi-Fi 6 devices should be permitted to operate in the prospective new 6 GHz Wi-Fi bands, as opposed to earlier iterations of the standard. The decision means that Wi-Fi 6 will be defined for operation in all current Wi-Fi bands including 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and future 6 GHz. Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) will continue to operate in 5 GHz only, while 2.4 GHz will still support older Wi-Fi versions (predominantly Wi-Fi 4 or 802.11n), according to Wi-Fi Now. 

The Wi-Fi Alliance, however, said it enthusiastically supports the commission’s proposal to extend unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band but doesn’t seek to limit unlicensed operations to a specific standard or technology.    

“Previous FCC decisions to allow unlicensed use on a technology-neutral basis leveraged a limited amount of spectrum (e.g., 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bands) into an explosion of wireless innovation,” Roytblat said. “A technology-neutral regulatory model in the 6 GHz band would continue to foster this innovation. The 6 GHz band is uniquely suited for the Wi-Fi 6 implementation and Wi-Fi industry is developing this technology in anticipation of the 6 GHz spectrum becoming available in the near future. Wi-Fi Alliance also remains focused on our core mission to maintain interoperability so that users have the best possible Wi-Fi experience.”