FCC Chairman Moves Forward on Rules to Allow Wi-Fi at 6 GHz
Thursday, April 02, 2020 | Comments

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated draft rules permitting unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band. The proposed rules would make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use.

Unlicensed devices would share this spectrum with incumbent licensed services “under rules that are crafted to protect those licensed services and to enable both unlicensed and licensed operations to thrive throughout the band,” a statement said.

The chairman’s draft rules will be voted on by the commission at the FCC’s April 23 open meeting. If adopted, the draft report and order would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band. An automated frequency coordination (AFC) system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services, Pai said.

Many public-safety and critical infrastructure industries (CII) entities are licensed 6 GHz incumbent users and have expressed numerous concerns with Pai’s plans for the band.

“We will be reviewing the draft order when it is available,” said Utilities Technology Council (UTC) Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs Sharla Artz. “We have and will continue to provide the FCC with technical detail demonstrating the very real interference potential from unlicensed use across all parts of the band and the need for thoroughly tested AFC to protect incumbent users. While we appreciate the FCC proposing to require AFC for the standard-power access points, these measures must also be applied to all unlicensed devices in the band to prevent interference to mission-critical utility communications systems.

“We are also concerned that the FCC is planning to allow low-power indoor unlicensed operations across the entire 1,200 megahertz of the band. In addition, we are concerned that the draft would allow unlicensed devices to operate at power levels that would cause unacceptable levels of interference to vital utility communications systems. We have and will continue to engage with the FCC and interested stakeholders to develop technical requirements that adequately protect critical infrastructure incumbents and allow unlicensed operations to use in the band.”

Pai said the new rules are necessary to accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand by effectively increasing the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five, “a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation.”

A further notice of proposed rulemaking proposed permitting very-low power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band to support high data rate applications including wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices. The further notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200-megahertz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.

In a blog, Pai noted the 6 GHz band (5.925 – 7.125 GHz) is currently populated by, among others, microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety and wireless backhaul. “So unlicensed devices will share this spectrum with incumbent licensed services under rules that are carefully crafted to protect those licensed services and to enable both unlicensed and licensed operations to thrive throughout the band,” he said.

In letters to lawmakers last month, Pai said the commission will use “physics” and “sound engineering analysis” to decide on the best use of the 6 GHz band.

The draft rules were not publicly available by press time.

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