Today the FCC announced its plan for spectrum in the 6 GHz band, a plan that would allow unlicensed devices to share the entire 6 GHz band with incumbent licensees. The bottom line is that, if adopted, the plan would increase the amount of spectrum available for wi-fi by nearly five-fold, so there is much to cheer about.
Standard wi-fi power will operate in two large parts of the band with open space next to each part to protect against interference with other uses. In addition, an automatic frequency coordinator, an advanced database technology, will be required to guard against interference. Such technology has been successfully used before for the same purpose. Further, low power wi-fi will be permissible through the entirety of the 6GHz band.
The challenge for the FCC has been, and will continue to be, to fill the “spectrum pipeline” with more available spectrum to meet the ever-increasing demand by consumers. Recently the need for more mid-band spectrum has been obvious. Mid-band spectrum (1GHz to 6GHz bands) is the sweet spot swath of spectrum that combines range and power in the best balance, making it attractive for a range of uses.
No new mid-band unlicensed spectrum has been released in a decade so the currently available bands are reaching exhaustion, becoming increasingly congested. Thoughtful leadership by the FCC to continue to maximize use and availability throughout the 6 GHz band permits future generations of wi-fi to be deployed, providing the 5G experience in our homes and businesses, as well as in urban and rural communities alike. As has been often detailed, 5G enables all that we have come to expect from wireless communications such as the intelligence of things, virtual reality and the increasingly obvious need for tele-health care and distance learning.
The 6 GHz band does currently have licensed users operating in it, such as electric utilities, some public safety operations and electronic news over-the-air programming. While such incumbent use should not be impeded, other could use the band as well. Some have raised concerns that some low power devices and very low power devices could still cause interference, even if unlikely. Regardless, they raise an important issue. Incumbent users should not experience interference or lessened quality of what they already have. Those who have paid for a license should not have the property rights for which they paid be diminished.
The FCC engineers and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) have a history of being competent in successfully facing the challenge of maximizing the use of spectrum, including the use of database technologies to help in avoiding interference. Recently they have done so in the 3.5GHz band where rules were crafted to allow licensed and unlicensed to safely co-exist with military radar, and in the 28GHz band in protecting satellite users. Moreover, unlicensed spectrum operates as a second priority in any band to limit harmful interference, and must shut down if there is a problem. But all said, interference must be guarded against to preserve function and expectations.
Given its experience, the FCC has presented a plan that will allow wi-fi devices to operate alongside the current users of the spectrum band. This is great news as the FCC is doing what can be done to maximize spectrum given current restraints. Going forward, a plan to include more licensed spectrum must be developed and a continuing focus on mid-band spectrum is a must. The combination of its actions now, and this continued focus on next steps for a mid-band and licensed plan is just what the country needs as the roll out of 5G continues enhancing the US global leadership role in broadband.