Vendors Weigh in on 6 GHz, While AT&T and EEI File Court Petitions Against FCC
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 | Comments

Several 6 GHz microwave equipment vendors that supply mission-critical backhaul networks said interference in the band is inevitable under new FCC rules that allow unlicensed devices into the spectrum for the first time and offered some suggestions to incumbent licensees.

The first step is for licensees to ensure their information is correct in the Universal Licensing System (ULS), because the FCC uses the data to contact incumbents. The commission plans to modify the ULS for special temporary authorities (STAs). An automated frequency coordination (AFC) system will rely on licensed data from the ULS to calculate 6 GHz interference potential.

Incumbents should then establish a measurement baseline for their networks. As the noise floor comes up, a baseline is important and allows a licensee to do interference termination upfront.

“Make sure you have the FCC Enforcement Bureau on speed dial,” said Mark Gibson, director of business development and regulatory policy at Comsearch. The discussion took place last week during a session of the Mission Critical Partners virtual Conference for Advancing Public Safety (CAPS).

The FCC has tasked the industry with standing up a stakeholder group to address potential 6 GHz interference. However, the mission-critical communications industry must understand how to manage the process once interference is detected.

“We need to start tracking data and performance,” said Ronil Prasad, senior director, solutions marketing and business development at Aviat Networks. “Interference has never existed in this band, so no microwave radio is made to mitigate interference natively. There is more intelligence or data needed. The more devices, the more unregulated power, the more noise. We would like a lot more oversight into this process. We would like better visibility into the microwave density and other factors. There are 110,000 6 GHz radios in North America, and most belong to public safety.”

Pat Picquet, senior director business development with Nokia, said it is important not to overreact and noted the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International petition for stay of the new rules could help.

To that end, Edison Electric Institute (EEI) joined the groups backing the APCO petition for reconsideration and petition for stay. In fact, AT&T and EEI challenged the FCC’s rules authorizing indoor devices to operate unlicensed in the 6 GHz band in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. EEI said in an FCC filing that it anticipates that the legal challenges will be consolidated by the court.

“While EEI and others pursue their challenges and pending judicial review, EEI hereby requests that the commission grant a stay of the order’s rules permitting unlicensed indoor device operation, thereby preventing irreparable harm to EEI’s members who rely on their licensed use of the 6 GHz band for essential operations,” the filing said. “Absent immediate relief, millions of untraceable, unrecallable unlicensed devices will be deployed with great potential to render mission-critical incumbent licensed use inoperable.”

In its June 6 petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, AT&T Services said: “The licensed uses of the 6 GHz band will continue to increase with the introduction of fifth-generation (5G) technologies and the need for network densification. The FCC’s order fails to adequately protect these essential services from interference from newly permitted unlicensed uses of the 6 GHz band. AT&T was a participant in the proceeding below and is aggrieved by the order because, as a licensed incumbent user, it provides services that rely on the 6 GHz band.

“AT&T seeks review of the order on the grounds that it is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act … the Constitution, the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and commission regulations promulgated thereunder; and is otherwise contrary to law. AT&T respectfully requests that this court hold unlawful, vacate, enjoin, and set aside the order, and that it provide such additional relief as may be appropriate.”

Low-power indoor unlicensed devices could be in place by end of the year if the rules go into effect July 27 as planned. AFC is not required for the indoor devices.

The 6 GHz outdoor unlicensed devices require AFC before they can begin operations, which will likely be at least 18 months. The FCC will put in place some form of trials; Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) took almost four years to get its spectrum access system (SAS) in place. 2022 deployment for AFC is possible, Gibson said.

“This band is too valuable, and there is a lot of mission-critical traffic we have to protect,” Picquet said. “So, we have to make sure we have the mechanisms in place to identify and resolve any issues.”

“We need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst case,” said Jerry Hurlbut, vice president, Microwave Networks. “We don’t want to wait until it comes to a link outage or system outage. Having a system in place to track the noise floor and other parameters is important. Absent of that, the options get dramatic — like leaving the band.”

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