Apple, Facebook and more lobby for expanded unlicensed use of 6 GHz band

While saying they’ll play nice with incumbents, a diverse set of players—Apple, Cisco, Google, Facebook, Broadcom, Intel, Qualcomm, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and more are among them—is pushing the FCC to set aside more spectrum for unlicensed users in the 6 GHz band.

About 30 entities signed the filing (PDF), all agreeing that Part 15 access to the 5925-7125 MHz band (aka the 6 GHz band) is essential in meeting demand for the next generation of wireless broadband services. The companies span the consumer equipment, internet media, software, cloud, semiconductor, enterprise, service provider and rural connectivity industries. Their proposal is in response to the FCC’s call for comments on expanding flexible use in mid-band spectrum between 3.7 and 24 GHz.

Specifically, they’re proposing that the FCC consider establishing multiple 6 GHz sub-bands, ensuring that technical rules and interference protections for each segment of the band are appropriate to incumbents operating in the frequencies. Taken together, the four sub-bands can be referred to as one 6 GHz band. 

The four sub-bands proposed are:

  • U-NII-5: 5925-6425 MHz
  • U-NII-6: 6425-6525 MHz
  • U-NII-7: 6525-6875 MHz
  • U-NII-8: 6875-7125 MHz

Proximity, proximity

One of the big reasons for the 6 GHz fanfare is its proximity. The 5.925-7.125 GHz band is adjacent to current unlicensed U-NII bands, meaning existing technologies designed for the 5 GHz band can be rapidly deployed. The technology manufacturers signing onto the proposal say they are committed to delivering 6 GHz-capable products and services to the market in a timely manner.

Another reason: The IEEE recently voted to extend coverage to the 6 GHz band, so the latest 802.11ax technology will be extended to gigabit-enabled channels, which is key as everyone sets their sights on gigabit speeds.

Broadcom believes this is the best band for the commission to focus on for the expansion of unlicensed, according to Christopher Szymanski, director, Product Marketing and Government Affairs at Broadcom.

“We’re under a spectrum crunch. Wi-Fi has been wildly successful,” he said, citing various reports showing roughly 80% of mobile traffic from cell phones goes over Wi-Fi. Yet there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the airwaves devoted to Wi-Fi. “We think it’s very important that the commission move quickly. We’re not looking to displace, we’re looking to protect.”

RELATED: FCC eyes midband spectrum between 3.7 and 24 GHz

Chuck Lukaszewski, vice president, Wireless Strategy at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), said the band is active with a lot of other users and the industry will need to show that it can safely coexist in that environment. But given Wi-Fi’s track record, that should not be a problem.

“We have been working successfully for almost 20 years with incumbents, both federal and non-federal, and co-existing between unlicensed technologies, and the industry has shown in the 2.4 GHz band, which is not part of this proceeding, that Wi-Fi can coexist just fine with Bluetooth, ZigBee and all the other unlicensed technologies.  

“I think our track record is such and the Part 15 rules are such that we’re going to conclusively demonstrate that we can very safely operate at low power levels that Wi-Fi employs and allow more intensive sharing of the band while fully protecting those incumbents,” Lukaszewski told FierceWirelessTech.

Here’s a list of the entities backing the 6 GHz proposal: All Points Broadband, Amplex Electric dba Amplex Internet, Apple, Blaze Broadband, Broadcom, Cambium Networks, Cisco Systems, Computer Office Solutions dba Snappy Internet, Cypress Semiconductor Corporation, Dell, Electronic Corporate Pages dba Western Broadband, Extreme Networks, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, HP, Intel, Interwest Management Services dba Fire2Wire, JAB Wireless dba Rise Broadband, 23 Joink, MediaTek, MetaLINK Technologies, Microsoft, New Wave Net, Pixius Communications, Qualcomm, Ruckus, Sony Electronics, the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association and Wisper ISP.

While not listed among the signatories, the Wi-Fi Alliance made similar points, saying the 6 GHz band is ideal to help meet demands for Wi-Fi. The group noted that recent NTIA action foreclosing unlicensed operations in the 5.35-5.47 GHz (U-NII-2B) band significantly disrupted Wi-Fi industry plans to accommodate growing demand in the mid-band spectrum.

T-Mobile, Ericsson suggest licensed mobile uses 

While wireless operators and their vendors directed much of their commentary in the mid-band proceeding to the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, they also weighed in on the 5.925-6.425 and the 6.425-7.125 GHz bands.

T-Mobile says the commission should consider not only the 3.6-4.2 GHz band for wireless broadband, but also the 6.425-7.125 GHz band as well. “T-Mobile urges the Commission to consider making some or all of this band available for licensed mobile broadband use,” the operator said in its filing.

Ericsson also suggested the commission take a close look at the 6.425-7.125 GHz band for mobile services, saying the band could serve as a great complement to the millimeter wave band for use cases in urban core and densely populated areas and beyond. By example, the company said the band could be particularly useful for applications such as automotive/connected car.

Taking a different tact, Verizon said that with regards to the 5.925-6.425 GHz band, which it noted serves as the corollary Earth-to-space uplink band associated with the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, Verizon itself has several thousand microwave licenses in the band and believes it’s critical that, whatever path the commission chooses, it must protect incumbent users.

However, Verizon said the proximity of the 5.925-6.425 GHz band to the 5.15-5.35 GHz and 5.47-5.727 GHz bands makes it particularly attractive for unlicensed use, and therefore it conditionally supports unlicensed use in the 5.925-6.425 GHz band as long as the commission adopts rules that provide adequate protections to incumbent and future microwave deployments in the band.