AT&T asks FCC for 2 experimental licenses for 6G

AT&T is asking the FCC for two, two-year experimental licenses in Austin, Texas, to be used to “demonstrate the functionality and capabilities” of 5G-advanced and 6G wireless systems.

In its application, AT&T said that it will use the spectrum licenses to test communications between mobile units and fixed base stations placed both indoors and outdoors. The tests will establish wireless links between the base stations and the mobile user equipment at distances up to 5 kilometers.

The equipment used with these licenses will operate in higher spectrum bands, including the sub-Terahertz (THz) band, which is between 95 GHz and 3 THz. The FCC made the sub-THz band available for experimental licenses in March 2019 as part of the agency’s Spectrum Horizons First Report and Order. 

The licenses AT&T is asking for include the following spectrum bands:

  • 5.9 GHz to 8.4 GHz
  • 10.7 GHz to 15.35 GHz
  • 92 GHz to 100 GHz

AT&T said that by using the experimental licenses it hopes to gain valuable insights into how to optimize next-generation cloud-native architectures and technologies as well as develop new use cases using multi-Gbps throughput.

It’s likely the operator picked Austin, Texas as the location for these experimental licenses because it is home to the University of Texas at Austin’s 6G research center that is supported by AT&T and other industry players including Samsung and Qualcomm.

But AT&T isn’t the only company seeking to use the FCC’s Spectrum Horizons experimental licenses. Test and measurement company Keysight Technologies revealed in March that it had been granted the first FCC Spectrum Horizons experimental license for sub-THz frequency bands. The company said it would be using the license to develop 6G technology and didn’t provide more specifics.

Standards organizations like the 3GPP are working on 6G standards, but the standard isn’t expected to be released for at least a few more years. But it’s expected that 6G will incorporate advanced antenna technologies as well as more efficient coding and modulation schemes and will likely deliver multi-gigabit download and upload speeds. Plus, many anticipate that 6G will incorporate sub-THz and THz spectrum.

The benefit of THz spectrum is that it can deliver data-intensive, high bandwidth applications at super-fast speeds for a short distance. However, much like millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, a signal traveling in THz spectrum can only travel a short distance (typically between 100 to 150 meters) and some believe the signal will be impacted by environmental conditions.

Much like 5G, many industry leaders are calling for the U.S. to aggressively work on 6G development today so that it can be a leader in 6G.

Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, said during the recent FierceWireless 5G Blitz event that there needs to be more research and testing today to make 6G happen and called on the U.S. to stake its claim and be a leader in 6G as it is in 5G today. He also called on regulators to take a “light touch” on regulation to avoid “hampering industry innovations.”