The FCC has conditionally approved 13 automated frequency response (AFC) database systems designed to enable communications service providers to share spectrum in the 6 GHz band with existing users. It’s an important development for fixed wireless access (FWA) providers as it will pave the way for providers to use the spectrum on an unlicensed basis for outdoor or indoor standard power use.
Conditional approval means that the 13 companies will be able to “finalize development for operations in the 6 GHz band and prepare for the testing phase,” the FCC said in a press release.
The 6 GHz band is an important one for FWA providers because it includes a 1,200 MHz swath of spectrum with 160 MHz channels that can support speeds of 1 Gbps, according to companies that have used the bands on an experimental basis.
The 12 companies whose AFC systems have received conditional FCC approval are 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.
An executive at one of the companies that have developed FWA equipment for use in the 6 GHz band told us recently that he expected AFC systems to be fully operational by the middle of next year.
6 GHz AFC
The FCC made plans to make the spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use back in 2020. The spectrum was immediately available for low-power indoor use without the need for an AFC and it already supports high-speed Wi-Fi 6e devices. Outdoor use has not yet been allowed because of the need for an AFC (unless the installing company was able to obtain an experimental license).
The 6 GHz band isn’t the only one used to support FWA speeds of 1 Gbps. Some companies have deployed fixed wireless in millimeter wave bands, which according to the companies, also can support speeds of 1 Gbps. A key difference is that the 6 GHz band supports longer-range communications in comparison with millimeter wave bands, potentially making it more suitable for deployments in sparsely populated areas.
Whether or not fixed wireless technology could support speeds of 1 Gbps was a key decision that the FCC had to make in connection with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. That program used a reverse auction to award funding to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. A weighting system favored bids to deploy service at speeds of at least 1 Gbps and some of the largest winning bidders based their bids on using fixed wireless to support 1 Gbps service.
Gigabit FWA got a big vote of confidence from the FCC recently when the commission approved several companies’ RDOF funding for deployments based on gigabit FWA.