FCC modifies rules in 57GHz to 64GHz band for wireless services

The FCC has voted unanimously to modify its Part 15 rules governing unlicensed communication equipment in the 57GHz to 64GHz band to ease its use for wireless services.

The rule change will enhance the use of unlicensed spectrum as a relatively low-cost, high-capacity short-range backhaul alternative to connect wireless broadband networks and for other wireless applications. The FCC said unlicensed spectrum technologies have the potential to encourage competition in the broadband market, promote efficient delivery of broadband services in residences and businesses, and improve user experience with consumer devices needing short-range but high data rate communications. 

These modifications could provide wireless broadband network connectivity over distances up to 1mi at data rates of 7Gb/s, potentially relieving the need and expense of wiring facilities or using existing facilities with less capability.

At the same time, the rules for equipment located indoors will remain unchanged, providing regulatory certainty for an emerging family of products that can provide data rates of 7Gb/s for applications such as wireless docking of digital devices and distribution of uncompressed video to TV receivers and video displays.

In the 1990s, the FCC adopted rules for unlicensed operations over a 7GHz wide bandwidth, in the 57GHz to 64GHz band. Because of the wide bandwidth, this spectrum is very desirable for high-capacity uses, both in point-to-point fixed operations outdoors (extending the reach of fiber optic networks by providing broadband access to adjacent structures in commercial facilities), and as networking equipment indoors (enabling users to send data between entertainment equipment such as high-definition televisions and video players within the same room, eliminating the need for complex wiring). 

Responding to a petition by the industry, the FCC increased the power permitted for outdoor operations between fixed points using highly directional antennas and tied the maximum power permitted to the precision of the antenna beam, which determines its potential for causing interference to other users, including to indoor low-power networks. 

This rule change would permit outdoor devices to deliver high-capacity communication links over longer distances, enhancing the utility of the unlicensed 57GHz to 64GHz band as a vehicle for broadband. It will also facilitate the use of this unlicensed spectrum as a backhaul alternative in densely populated areas where 4G and other wireless services are experiencing an ever-increasing need for additional spectrum. 

The FCC also took additional actions to reduce the regulatory burden on these operations by eliminating a station identification rule that has become unnecessary and by modifying the measurement units to promote uniformity and consistency.

“By making a number of changes to the technical requirements, (this) item takes another important step to encourage the technological development in these spectrum bands," said acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. "For example, increasing the emission limits for outdoor fixed applications will extend the reach of fiber-optic networks, and promote broadband backhaul links between cellular base stations.”

She added, “Tapping into the lightly used upper reaches of the spectrum is an important component in our overall strategy for meeting the high bandwidth demands of tomorrow’s networks. It will also help promote expansion of wireless broadband services to rural areas of our country.”

The FCC’s rule change “allows a sensible increase in power levels, eliminates the obsolete mandate that devices transmit identification information, and streamlines other rules,” said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. “In sum, it makes using 60GHz spectrum easier and less expensive.”