wireless towerFCC Chairman Pai proposed today to add a wide swath of unlicensed spectrum in the 6 GHz band that could empower a variety of wireless applications, including dramatically increasing unlicensed fixed wireless service deployed by WISPs. The Wireless Internet Providers Association (WISPA) hailed Pai’s proposed Report and Order for opening up 1,200 MHz of this unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum.

“To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use,” said FCC Chairman Pai in a press release. “By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.”

Included in the proposed order is allocating 850 MHz of standard power use subject to automated frequency coordination (AFC), a proposal WISPA has long supported. According to WISPA, using AFC in a point-to-multipoint model will enable small rural WISPs to bring “fixed 5G” wireless services to more rural Americans, potentially enabling speeds of 100/20 Mbps. AFC decreases interference issues with other devices using the unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum band. The draft rules will be voted on by the Commission at the FCC’s Open Meeting on April 23.

“There has not been a significant release of unlicensed spectrum for two decades, and this new spectrum will provide the rocket fuel to truly enrich and realize the dreams of rural 5G, as well as other wireless innovation yet to be invented,” said Claude Aiken, WISPA president and CEO, in a prepared statement. “The Commission’s allocation of this new swath of spectrum makes it clear: the unlicensed ecosystem is no longer an understudy to licensed wireless services,” noted Aiken.  “They are co-equals, working together to boost the entire wireless-driven economy, and offering real competition where it is needed.”

There’s been considerable debate regarding how to bring 6 GHz spectrum to market. Mobile wireless carriers favored and pushed for licensed use of the spectrum. Other interest groups including utilities and broadcasters also opposed the unlicensed option. The cable industry, which has long leveraged unlicensed Wi-Fi to its broadband advantage applauded the proposal.

“The 6 GHz band offers an unprecedented opportunity to increase both the broadband capacity to the home using higher capacity fixed wireless, and wi-fi capacity in the home by using wider channels,” said cable MSO Midco Chief Technology Officer Jon Pederson in the WISPA press release. “A varied group of communications providers, including WISPs, cable companies, rural telcos, and their customers, would benefit greatly from the ability to use the 6 GHz band.  6 GHz is crucial to helping companies like Midco close the digital divide because it enables us to deploy Fixed 5G-capable equipment to offer even faster speeds to more customers.”

The FCC has also been working to free up a portion of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use.

Bernie Arnason contributed to this post.

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