FCC 6 GHz Vote Draws Broadcaster Criticism, Wireless Industry Praise

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WASHINGTON—The FCC's approval to open up 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band drew criticism from those representing the interests of broadcasters, like NAB, and the praise from unlicensed wireless device backers, such as the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). 

The FCC Report and Order authorizes indoor low-power operation of unlicensed wireless devices, such as Wi-Fi 6 modems, across the 6 GHz band (5.925 to 7.125 GHz), which is used by radio and television stations for electronic newsgathering as well as other incumbents, including utilities, public safety entities and wireless backhaul concerns, that rely on the band for microwave transmission. It also authorizes standard-power devices in 850 MHz of the band.

According to the FCC, an automatic frequency coordination system will prevent the standard-power devices from interfering with incumbent servers.

The SBE, however, is critical of the vote because in its view the agency has failed to protect incumbents. “The problem with FCC's decision is that it absolutely does not protect incumbent services, including BAS, CARS and LTTS licensees in the 6425-6525 MHz band from interference that will disrupt or preclude electronic news gathering,” said SBE General Counsel Chris Imlay,

“As SBE noted in comments and in an ex parte submission—which the FCC quoted from but essentially ignored in the Report and Order—among the flaws in the rules adopted by the Commission are: (1) The power level is far too high for indoor applications; (2) There is a complete absence of any duty cycle limitation. (3) There are insufficient out-of-band emission limits. (4) There is no possibility that unlicensed broadband mobile devices can sense a temporary receive location in a stadium or other indoor location. (5) The indoor application limitation for U-NII-6 and U-NII-8 devices is unenforceable.”

“The bottom line with any unlicensed device is that if unauthorized deployment or unauthorized device configuration cannot be addressed prior to the point of sale, the rule is not enforceable, post hoc,” he said. 

Reacting to today’s vote, NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton expressed disappointment that the agency would permit unlicensed, uncoordinated use across the band, as well as dissatisfaction with how the FCC went about making its decision.

“Unlike in other recent proceedings, the commission did not bring stakeholders together to seek compromise. Moreover, the order represents an inexplicable departure from existing precedent,” said Wharton.

“Rather than require unlicensed proponents to prove they will not cause harmful interference, the commission shockingly forgoes any independent analysis that interference won’t be too bad or happen too often. This ‘fingers crossed’ approach is bad policy and not what is required under law,” he said.

WISPA President Claude Aiken, however, lauded the FCC action. “Three-quarters or more of all internet traffic moves over unlicensed devices and networks, keeping us connected, informed and, especially for the day’s recent events, safe. To say that it is important is a gross understatement,” he said.

Aiken pointed out that unlicensed spectrum “is stressed to the max” and there has been no sizable allocation of spectrum for unlicensed use in 20 years. Saying the agency “did the right thing,” he praised the FCC for weighing the evidence and determining unlicensed devices can safely share the band.

“This at a time when IoT, AI, smart home and other unlicensed-dependent technologies flood the marketplace; the deployment of 5G rapidly takes shape; and the Black Swan of the world’s new pandemic-induced, stay-at-home connectivity paradigm has put crushing demands on our networks and unlicensed ecosystem,” he said. In Aiken’s view, the commission’s action will help remedy the situation.

However, Wharton pointed specifically to possible negative ramifications of the action for the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “The COVID-19 crisis has prompted Americans to flock to credible, lifeline local television and broadcast network news in record numbers. If today’s FCC decision is wrong, it will irreparably undermine broadcast newsgathering just as it is needed most," he said.

PLUS: NAB: 6 GHz Facts Being Ignored by OTI, Others

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) applauded the FCC for its vote, saying opening the spectrum will bring “radical change for the Wi-Fi industry,” making possible greater speed, lower latency and more network capacity.

“Extending Wi-Fi into the 6 GHz spectrum band can provide more Wi-Fi capacity than all the other bands put together,” said WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues, adding that using Wi-Fi 6 technology in the band will deliver wireless service that’s equivalent to 5G networks.

“In terms of the capability and capacity of networks, Wi-Fi 6E, will rewrite the rules of what is possible,” he said.

PLUS: FCC Spectrum Plan Could Add $183B to Economy, Per WiFiForward

The FCC also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which it wants comments on a proposal to allow very low-power devices, such as VR and AR devices, that support high data rate applications into the band. It also wants comments on increasing the power level of indoor access points. 

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.