US Expected to Open Up 6 GHz Band for Wi-Fi 6

Article By : Nitin Dahad

With cellular carriers desperate to shunt ever increasing amounts of traffic to Wi-Fi whenever possible, Wi-Fi systems desperately need more bandwidth. the US FCC proposes making entire 6 GHz band available for Wi-Fi use...

With forecasts suggesting nearly 60 percent of mobile data traffic worldwide will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently circulated proposed draft rules to make 6 GHz of spectrum available for Wi-Fi use. The proposal is set for a vote at the FCC’s open meeting on 23 April. The wireless broadband industry contends that this move will unleash the potential of Wi-Fi 6 and boost Industry 4.0 uptake.

However, the FCC push to bestow 6 GHz on unlicensed devices such as Wi-Fi is alarming in some quarters.  The proposal goes beyond just 1,200 MHz spectrum in the 6 GHz band that the FCC plans to give to Wi-Fi. The FCC has also mentioned stripping away much of the 75 MHz of the adjacent 5.9 GHz band, originally set aside for the automotive industry to enable vehicle safety communications (including Vehicle-to-Infrastructure and Vehicle-to-Vehicle).

Nonetheless, this is a great news to the Wi-Fi community. Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), said, “The proposed opening of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6 technology will be a game changer for global Wi-Fi. This new band would provide more capacity than all the other Wi-Fi bands put together. If approved, it would prove critical for overcrowding on many Wi-Fi networks, especially in light of the volumes of bandwidth hungry corporate traffic recently pushed onto home networks due to COVID-19.  This is one of the reasons we have been working closely with members on initial trials of Wi-Fi 6E.”

“The proposed release of the 6 GHz band would mean that we can generate multi-gigabit speeds and low-latency connections to deliver advanced mobile services to consumers, business and industry. Wi-Fi 6E is already proven in trials to achieve speeds to rival those of advanced 5G mobile networks.” Rodrigues added that Wi-Fi 6E would improve connectivity in congested places like subway or tube stations or at event stadiums. It would also support the low-latency levels needed for applications like virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) and mobile gaming. For this reason, he said the FCC’s announcement has given a very significant boost to those businesses trying to make Industry 4.0 a reality.

Supporting very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band
In his statement this week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai released draft rules permitting unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band.  The proposal would make 1,200 MHz 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.

“From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” said Chairman Pai.  “That trend will only continue.  Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to Wi-Fi by 2022.  To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use.  By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.  This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation.  It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks.  And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”

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 system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.

Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes 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.  Specifically, 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.

Commenting on the FCC statement, Mary Brown, senior director for government affairs at Cisco, said, “Cisco is thrilled to see that the FCC, under chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, will take up unlicensed use of the entire 6 GHz  band at their next meeting.” She said access to additional unlicensed spectrum will finally unleash the full potential of Wi-Fi 6 technology, which today is limited to smaller blocks of spectrum in the 5 GHz band.  “We believe the FCC’s review of the underlying technical issues has been thorough, and while we have yet to see the details, that the FCC will exercise care to ensure that licensed users of the band will not be negatively impacted.”

First trials of Wi-Fi 6 by Broadcom and Intel

Wi-Fi 6 vs Wi-Fi 6E
Wi-Fi 6 operates in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, while Wi-Fi 6E further extends Wi-Fi functionality to the 6 GHz spectrum band to further increasing throughput and lowering latency. (Image: Wireless Broadband Alliance)

The first trials carried out earlier this year used Wi-Fi 6E-capable mobile platforms and laptop equipment enabled by Broadcom and Intel. During the enterprise trials, which took place in San Jose, California, speeds of 2Gbps were achieved, comparable to 5G cellular service speeds, as well as a consistent two-millisecond low-latency connection. The trials showed that Wi-Fi 6E meets the needs of both consumer and industrial VR/AR applications.

Broadcom and Intel are leading the charge to enable Wi-Fi 6E devices.  Broadcom recently announced a broad portfolio of Wi-Fi 6E chips targeted for production later in the year and predict that as many as 500 million Wi-Fi 6E compatible laptops and mobile devices will be in use in the next three years.

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