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'In Flux'

Vote Seen Imminent on FCC Order on Very-Lower Power Devices in 6 GHz Band

An expected FCC order on the 2020 Further NPRM on the 6 GHz band likely won’t go as far as Wi-Fi advocates hoped (see 2308070060). Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is now expected to seek changes only permitting very-low-power (VLP) devices to operate anywhere without location awareness or automated frequency control, industry experts said. The order is expected to delay a decision on a second part of the FNPRM, on increasing the power at which low-power indoor (LPI) access points may operate.

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Rosenworcel wants the VLP issue resolved before the Nov. 20 start of the World Radiocommunication Conference, creating a new category of devices already permitted in more than 40 countries, experts said. The U.S. is pressing the WRC not to adopt a change allowing 6 GHz international mobile telecommunications (IMT) in the band or a future agenda item on the topic at the WRC in 2027 (see 2309050085).

The FCC Office of Engineering and Technology is apparently still analyzing LPI interference questions. The FCC declined comment Monday. Some hoped for FCC action on the FNPRM following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s 2021 decision upholding the 2020 6 GHz order (see 2112280047).

The order appears to be “somewhat in flux,” emailed Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld. “This is rather frustrating, especially after the D.C. Circuit affirmed the use of such tools as Monte-Carlo simulations and agreed that the FCC did not need to protect against every possible edge case or hypothetical concern,” he said: “It is doubly disappointing after the FCC's policy statement earlier this year putting all licensees on notice that spectrum is increasingly crowded and avoiding harmful interference is a shared responsibility.”

When users don't have incentives to “internalize the costs of interference, technical rules have to fill in that role, and they are sometimes more conservative than some types of users prefer,” said Joe Kane, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation director-broadband and spectrum policy. “Ultimately, having unlicensed uses in the 6 GHz band that don't harm incumbents or inhibit the overall productivity of the band will depend on OET getting this right, and I have no reason to doubt their analysis,” he said.

Rosenworcel “doesn’t seem keen on taking controversial positions,” said Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer. “I just hope the chairwoman doesn’t take the same posture as she did with 12 GHz, where she completely foreclosed the option to move forward with 5G mobile in the band without further study,” he said: “Instead, I hope she leaves the door open to allow stakeholders to do more tests with increased power in 6 GHz.”

Wi-Fi advocates hope for FCC action soon on both VLP and LPI.

Since the commission’s trailblazing 6 GHz decision, in addition to exhaustive spectrum sharing analyses, over 60 countries allowed the more complete use of the band with VLP and LPI at higher power, providing real-world, practical validation for such operations,” emailed Alex Roytblat, Wi-Fi Alliance vice president-regulatory affairs. “At this point, there simply are no valid technical reasons to continue to constrain broadband connectivity, technological leadership and economic competitiveness,” Roytblat said.

Incumbent users of the 6 GHz band continue to raise concerns about changes to rules for VLP and LPI operations. In a filing last month in docket 18-295, the Utilities Technology Council and others asked the FCC to “formally propose any new rules” it’s considering “so the public has fair and sufficient notice to comment.” The incumbents “are concerned that the Commission is considering adopting rules that some parties claim will protect against interference in theory, but may or may not do so as a matter of practice.” The filing was also signed by other utility groups, APCO and the Enterprise Wireless Alliance.

The incumbent representatives remain concerned about LPI interference even at the current power levels and with the lack of a process for interference mitigation with devices controlled by AFCs, let alone devices that operate without even that oversight,” a coalition of 6 GHz users said in a statement: “The incumbent representatives also note that they have been clear in their recent ex parte communications that an imminent item addressing operations of VLP in the band should be an FNPRM rather than an order, given the complexity of the very technical filings submitted at this late stage in the process. … They note there is a lack of valid statistical support for the contention that VLP use will be ‘primarily indoors.’”