FCC clears very low power devices to operate at 6 GHz

The word GHz made  with letters that are made of computer parts
Sheila Zabeu -

October 31, 2023

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the independent government agency that regulates interstate and international radio, television, wire, satellite and cable communications in the United States, has announced that it will free up a band of around 850 MHz in the 6 GHz band so that a class of very low-power devices can operate alongside other Wi-Fi devices.

The aim is to stimulate a wider range of applications, such as technologies that use Internet of Things (IoT) devices, wearables and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) and provide even more opportunities, for example in the health and entertainment segments.

In recent years, the FCC had already released 1,200 MHz of spectrum between 5.925 GHZ and 7.125 GHz for unlicensed use, helping to pave the way for Wi-Fi 6E and preparing the ground for Wi-Fi 7. This also contributed to the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) implementations. Based on these advances, the agency now wants to allow other types of operation in the 6 GHz band.

The new rules add 850 MHz of spectrum so that devices that operate with very low power over short distances and very high connection speeds can work in the 6 GHz band, without interfering with the licensed use of this band. These use cases include applications with sensors and wearable technologies, a wide variety of IoT devices and advanced AR and VR solutions. It will be necessary, however, to limit these devices to very low power levels and subject them to other technical and operational requirements in order to operate in the United States, so as to also protect already licensed services that use the 6 GHz band.

More specifically, the new rules will authorize operations by devices operating at very low power in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 portions of the 6 GHz band, totaling 850 MHz of spectrum. Operations with significantly lower power levels than other devices in unlicensed 6 GHz can take place anywhere, indoors or outdoors, without the need for a frequency coordination system.

The changes to the rules around the 6 GHz band should not affect the operation of routers. Some interference may occur if there is a device very close to the access point that operates at very low power, usually designed for short-range data transfer – for example, a VR headset connected to the computer via a 6 GHz connection.

Tech giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Meta have been lobbying the FCC for access to the 6 GHz band since 2019. What brought together companies that are often competitors in other scenarios was the intention to freely exploit the Wi-Fi standard around this spectrum band, without having to deal with licensing obstacles or regulatory restrictions.

In 2018, the FCC had already promoted the opening up of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi for unlicensed activities, angering the cellular industry and the public services sector that still used some microwave antennas on the 6 GHz frequency. Not satisfied, in 2019, nine companies in the technology sector applied for FCC approval for a new category of very low-power Wi-Fi devices that could cross the 6 GHz band without restrictions or interference concerns. The positive response has now arrived, in 2023.

For the Wi-Fi Alliance, this was an important step taken by the FCC towards expanding the regulatory framework for the rapidly growing ecosystem of unlicensed 6 GHz devices. “It will be a new era for Wi-Fi with a new generation of devices connected by this standard,” says the institution on its website.