Why 6 GHz Is Critical to Public Safety and Industry
By Jamie Barnett
Monday, July 08, 2019 | Comments
The relentless drive for more Wi-Fi and cellphone spectrum is on a collision course with established public-safety communications networks. Technology consumers expect more wireless services that are faster, ubiquitously available and uncongested. The demand is so high that the FCC opened a proceeding to adopt rules for unlicensed use in the 6 GHz spectrum, which is currently licensed to many public-safety entities and businesses that rely on the spectrum for safety and critical communications for fixed point-to-point microwave communications.

In the FCC’s proposed rulemaking to allow unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band, the commission noted that the 6 GHz band is used for a variety of critical services, including public-safety communications for first responder dispatch. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) is one of many groups that protested the rulemaking, filing comments with the FCC stating, “APCO remains concerned that expanding unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band will cause harmful interference to public-safety operations. Fixed links are not designed to detect interference until after a communications link fails, putting safety of life and property at risk.”

Industry also has critical communications affecting the safety of life and property, such as RigNet’s 6 GHz microwave network in the Gulf of Mexico, providing 24,000 square miles of WiMAX coverage at sea. 

“This network is essential for preventing disasters on deep sea oil platforms by providing high throughput communications for the thousands of sensors on board these remote locations providing real-time analysis,” said Brendan Sullivan, RigNet chief technology officer (CTO) and chief information officer (CIO). “And when accidents do happen, fast, reliable communications is absolutely essential. Unlicensed use can cause crippling interference.”

RigNet argues that if unlicensed 6 GHz is in use, this particular spectrum becomes a wireless access point for multiple users on the platform that provides the backhaul for the network to perform.

“The microwave signals are running on the 6 GHz frequency, if someone puts up an antenna in the free-range area, and starts broadcasting, it will knock that network out,” said Sullivan.

Dr. Alexei Vederko, manager of global RF engineering for RigNet, provided scientific evidence of RigNet’s argument with a series of calculations that showed unacceptable interference because of the structure of the network and the probable positioning of the interference sources on the same platforms and in the main lobe.

The 6 GHz network is the most reliable broadband point-to-point communications network in the Gulf of Mexico. This signal is used to power the microwave connection currently available, and because it is a point-to-point microwave, any interference can disrupt the network in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the network for public-safety communications used by first responders, 9-1-1, wireless emergency alerts, emergency communications and other critical communications.

The 6 GHz network is being upgraded to Long Term Evolution (LTE), expanding the coverage to 45,000 square miles. The network is used by RigNet and its customers, but anyone with LTE roaming may access the network and pay roaming charges. With the upgrade to LTE, 9-1-1 calls, emergency communications, disaster preparedness, telemedicine and personnel evacuation will be greatly enhanced. But because unlicensed use would occur primarily on the same platforms that carry the network backhaul, the likelihood of interference with these communications is unacceptably high.

With LTE, new levels of public safety are available to the personnel working on oil platforms and oil field service vessels, as well as to any person in the Gulf of Mexico within the coverage of the network. The use of unlicensed 6 GHz can threaten public-safety communications. If communications is interrupted, persons throughout the area will be unable to use the network for at-sea firefighting, medical evacuation, suicide prevention, search and rescue (SAR), disaster preparedness, emergency and weather alerts.

Constant and highly reliable communications is essential in the Gulf of Mexico. At any given time, thousands of workers are on these platforms. Therefore, better ship-to-shore data exchanges can minimize communications failure that can lead to poor early detection and response in the event of an emergency.

“Following past incidents, the industry has increased its safety position, developing daily operational reports and this data to shore is necessary, and if a rig cannot do that, you have to shut the rig down,” said Sullivan. “This is why RigNet has the highest standards of critical comms available for offshore energy.”

The interesting thing about the at-sea network is the nature of where the interference will come from. Any interference here has the possibility to go further than it would on land. Unlike terrestrial networks, this at-sea network’s links are entirely dependent on the positioning of oil platforms. Because microwave links go up to 30 miles, 6 GHz works well across these distances, power levels and environmental factors in a way that other microwave frequencies do not.

In Vederko’s analysis, he reported that seawater is more reflective of RF energy than terrain, where there is more absorption and diffusion. At sea, even with some significant wave action and sea state, unlicensed use can be expected to cause more severe interference than on land.

“We are looking at past precedence,” said Sullivan. “Ensuring the availability of 6 GHz for use by the energy industry is essential to their operations.”

RigNet is very much in favor of the FCC finding additional spectrum for Wi-Fi and 5G, but it needs to be done in a way that avoids interruptions of public safety and other critical communications.

Jamie Barnett, RigNet’s senior vice president for government services, is a former chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

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On 7/18/19, Leon van der Linde said:
The problem could originate from other markets. In other parts of the world, equipment is manufactured in the 6 GHz band for license free. In the rest of the world the 6 GHz band may be open for license free. Unfortunately in the Gulf of Mexico, the 6 GHz band is used for all your communications. Manufacturers look at where the maximum sales are and then manufacture for the market where the maximum sales are. Maybe 6 GHz renders massive sales in a license free and then the FCC is sort of compelled to open the band. If they don't they could be in trouble with the international controlling bodies. Something to think about. The world does not orbit only around a small area of a country but around very large Earth. We need to adapt.

On 7/17/19, Mike McNamara said:
The 6 GHz spectrum provides critical backhaul for first responders' communications networks. Public safety can no longer afford to lose more usable backhaul spectrum required to operate in mission-critical microwave spectrum that is able to work in adverse weather conditions such as severe storms and or hurricanes. 11, 18 and 24 Ghz microwave spectrum is useless in severe weather and because of this 6 GHz is the only usable spectrum left for reliable public-safety backhaul. In the United States, once this spectrum is compromised all first responders and 9-1-1 recipients are put at great risk. This is bad policy and all the first responders in this country should be made aware of how this proposed policy compromises their radio communications reliability.


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