FCC Adopts New 6 GHz Rules Allowing Unlicensed Use Despite Industry Concerns
Thursday, April 23, 2020 | Comments

As expected, the FCC adopted rules that make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. These new rules will usher in Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, and play a role in the growth of the internet of things (IoT), the FCC said.

Opening the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use will increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five and help improve rural connectivity. Wi-Fi 6 will be more than two-and-a-half times faster than the current standard and will offer better performance for American consumers, a statement said.

The 6 GHz band is populated by, among others, microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety and wireless backhaul. Unlicensed devices will share this spectrum with incumbent licensed services under rules “crafted to protect those licensed services and enable both unlicensed and licensed operations to thrive throughout the band,” the commission said.

The report and order authorizes indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200 megahertz and standard-power devices in 850 megahertz in the 6 GHz band. An automated frequency coordination (AFC) system will prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.

A further notice of proposed rulemaking (FNPR) seeks comment on a proposal to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band to support high data rate applications including high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices. The notice also seeks comment on increasing the power at which low-power indoor access points may operate.

“Unlicensed devices that employ Wi-Fi and other unlicensed standards have become indispensable for providing low-cost wireless connectivity in countless products used by American consumers,” said an FCC statement. “In making broad swaths of the 6 GHz spectrum available for unlicensed use, the FCC envisions new innovative technologies and services that will deliver new devices and applications to American consumers and advance the commission’s goal of making broadband connectivity available to all Americans, especially those in rural and underserved areas.”

Several lawmakers and internet and wireless companies applauded the rules, while the mission-critical communications community outlined its concerns around potential interference.

"Opening the 6 GHz band can be done in such a way that can both unleash the new innovations the FCC and others hope for while also protecting the critical infrastructure industries (CII) systems already in the band,” the Utilities Technology Council (UTC) said in a statement. “Doing so would take time, additional study and stronger protections for incumbent systems. Today, the FCC appears to have decided on taking a much riskier approach that does not control low-power indoor operations using AFC. Nor does the FCC order provide additional testing to prevent interference from occurring or enforcement processes to resolve interference that does occur. We will be fully engaged in the upcoming FNPR.

“We submitted real-world studies analyzing what could happen to existing communications networks in the band if the FCC proceeds without adequately protecting these systems from interference. Unfortunately, these studies proved that even at the power levels the FCC approved today, existing licensed communications systems in the band by utilities and other CII will receive harmful interference from unlicensed operations that are not controlled by AFC systems.”

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