FCC conditionally approves 13 AFC systems for 6 GHz band

The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) on Wednesday conditionally approved 13 proposed automated frequency coordination (AFC) database systems to develop operations for the 6 GHz band. The next phase involves testing in lab and public settings.

The AFC systems that won conditional approval are being developed by 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. 

“American businesses and households rely on Wi-Fi for work, school, access to healthcare, and connecting with friends and family,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “We are moving forward on our plan to open doors for next generation, faster, better Wi-Fi – including Wi-Fi 6E and laying the groundwork for Wi-Fi 7. This is good news and real progress.”

In the Public Notice released this week, the FCC acknowledged complaints they received from AT&T, the Utilities Technology Council, Edison Electric Institute and Verizon about the AFC proposals. However, the FCC said the information provided by the AFC applicants is sufficient to conclude that their proposed AFC systems will likely comply with the commission’s rules, many of which, it said, are straightforward. 

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Whether all of these proposed AFC systems end up offering services or if more will enter the fray is unclear. What’s more clear is that once the AFCs are deemed operational, it will open the 6 GHz band to higher power and outdoor use for Wi-Fi devices.

Currently, access points indoors are limited to 5 dBm per megahertz, and with AFC, the power can be increased 63 times, so the access points and client devices can operate at much higher power, according to Chris Szymanski, director of Product Marketing for Broadcom's Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division.

With AFC, “our customers can run their products at the power levels we designed those products to operate,” he told Fierce. “It’s going to provide a better user experience, indoor and outdoor.”

Stadiums, for example, are stuck on 5 GHz if they have open air, retractable roofs, and once AFCs are approved, those venues will be open for 6 GHz usage. Other examples are municipal networks like LinkNYC, as well as security cameras and electrical vehicle updates that can be provisioned using Wi-Fi 7 and 6 GHz.

“You’re going to have all these new use cases that we can enable consistent with the way we see the market evolving for wireless transmission,” he said. “We are really super excited about AFC for the power, but also the flexibility for new use cases.”

Michael Calabrese, director, Wireless Future Program at Open Technology Institute at New America, also said the Public Notice is welcome news for consumers and venues that will benefit from the huge boost in Wi-Fi capacity that next generation Wi-Fi will make possible, especially for schools, homes and businesses in underserved areas.  

“Importantly, the FCC’s conditional approval for AFCs also includes a streamlined plan for both lab and real-world testing, which are the final hurdles that remain before consumers can fully benefit from the FCC’s world-leading 6 GHz order,” Calabrese said.

Broadcom was conditionally approved as an AFC operator by the FCC using the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Open Source AFC software. Broadcom, along with Meta and Cisco, founded TIP’s open-source Open AFC Software Group.

The effort aims to drive 6 GHz standard power forward globally, and “this is sort of how we’re turbo-charging the 6 GHz market,” Szymanski said.

The next big question is when the AFCs tests can be done and validated with public trials. It’s Broadcom’s hope that it can get done early next year, in the first or second quarter, he said.