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FCC taps 13 providers to manage 6GHz band access for new Wi-Fi standards

Public will be able to test each system as part of development process

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has conditionally approved 13 proposed automated frequency coordination (AFC) systems to manage spectrum access for unlicensed devices in the 6GHz band.

The aim is to prevent new Wi-Fi kit from interfering with existing users in the stated space.

The FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) said this conditional approval kicks off the next phase of the process toward full commercial operations. The next step will involve testing of the AFC systems to verify that they operate in accordance with the FCC rules, and the OET will approve for commercial operations those AFC systems that successfully pass the test phase.

The 13 organizations granted conditional approval include: Broadcom; Google; Comsearch; Sony Group; Kyrio; Key Bridge Wireless; Nokia Innovations; Federated Wireless; Wireless Broadband Alliance; Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA); Qualcomm; Plume Design; and RED Technologies. These were detailed in a public notice [PDF].

All of this follows on from the FCC's decision in 2020 to open up the 1.2GHz of spectrum covering the 6GHz band (5.925–7.125GHz) for unlicensed use, chiefly driven by demands to open up more bandwidth to enable the Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 standards to deliver performance increases.

Doing so would raise the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five and help improve rural connectivity, the FCC said. However, it proved controversial at the time.

The fly in the ointment is that some or all of the 6GHz band is in use by other applications in the US, often by microwave links that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul services. Some mechanism would be required to enable co-existence with these legacy systems in order to prevent interference.

The FCC's solution was to implement rules for two different types of unlicensed operations; standard power and low power for indoor operations.

Low-power, indoor WiFi operations, such as in a typical home or office scenario, are unlikely to cause interference, and so are free to use the entire 6GHz band. However, standard-power WiFi may be used for outdoor applications, and can only operate under the control of an AFC system that manages spectrum access to ensure it does not clash with existing microwave systems.

This AFC control applies in two specific portions of the 6 GHz band, according to the FCC, the U-NII-5 band (5.925-6.425 GHz) and the U-NII-7 band (6.525-6.875 GHz).

The idea is any standard-power access point must consult a local AFC system to authorize the frequencies it wishes to operate before transmitting. For this, the AFC provider will have access to a database of existing 6GHz users, including details of their location, frequencies used, and signal coverage.

As applicants move forward with their systems, the testing process will include both lab testing and an opportunity for public testing, the FCC said. During the public trial phase, each AFC system applicant will be required to make its system available for a specified period of time to allow members of the public to test each AFC system's functionality. ®

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