FCC’s Authorization of 850 MHz of Unlicensed 6 GHz Spectrum for Internet of Things Effective March 8, 2024: New Opportunities Proliferate for High-Speed Advanced Technologies, Including Augmented and Virtual Reality
In November 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) released its Second Report and Order, Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Memorandum Report and Order on Remand (“R&O”) which provides for expanded and flexible use of the U–NII–5 (5.925–6.425 GHz) and U–NII–7 (6.525–6.875 GHz) bands. The crux of the R&O is the Commission’s promulgation of new rules permitting very low power (“VLP”) devices to operate in those bands. The FCC also seeks comments on additional rules that would allow the use of more 6 GHz bands for higher power VLPs and expand the conditions on which those devices may be used. The FCC broadly defines a VLP as a radiofrequency device with an integrated antenna that operates in the subject spectrum bands. Opening this large swath of spectrum for VLP devices will enable new innovative uses and facilitate Internet of Things (“IOT”) applications, such as augmented reality/virtual reality, in-car connectivity, wearable devices, healthcare monitoring, short-range mobile hotspots, high accuracy location, and navigation. The R&O was recently published in the Federal Register, which affirmed March 8, 2024 as the effective date of the new rules.
Demand for new VLP innovations is expected to grow exponentially, as indicated by the more than 2,700 comments and other filings in this rulemaking proceeding, including several filed by the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, AT&T, and Qualcomm. FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said: “Wearable devices stand at the very leading edge of wireless innovation. They can power applications for everyday users, educators, medical professionals and, yes, gamers, too. But in 2023, consumers don’t want and shouldn’t have to put up with devices that are wired, clunky, or sluggish, or that overheat and need to constantly recharge. With VLP, they can benefit from products that are more capable, sleeker, and more power efficient, and that cost less to make and just plain work better.”
While the new rules allow VLPs to operate across short distances using high connection speeds that facilitate high-data rate applications, they are subject to stringent technical and operational requirements, as set out in Part 15 of the FCC’s Rules. For example, VLPs are limited to extremely low power levels. Additionally, each device must include a transmit power control mechanism and employ contention-based protocol, which requires the VLP to “listen” to the spectrum and ensure that no interference will occur before transmitting. Other restrictions include:
- Prohibition on fixed outdoor infrastructure, g., VLPs may not be mounted on any type of outdoor structure.
- Standard power access points, fixed devices, and VLPs (“NII Equipment”) operating in the subject spectrum bands may not be used on oil rigs.
- NII Equipment is prohibited from operating on surface transportation vehicles, including trains and cars.
- NII Equipment may not be operated on boats.
- NII equipment cannot be used to control or communicate with drones and other types of unmanned aircraft.
- NII equipment is forbidden for use in aircraft, with limited exceptions for devices operating in the 5.925 – 6.425 GHz bands in large aircraft flying above 10,000 feet.
The FCC seeks comments on the following rule proposals which are intended to expand the spectrum for, and permitted uses of, VLPs. The comment submission deadline is February 7, 2024, and reply comments are due by March 8, 2024.
- Whether VLPs should be permitted to operate on additional 6 MHz bands.
- Should new VLPs be required to operate under the control of a geofencing system that prevents the devices from operating in close proximity to co-channel licensed incumbent services.
- Whether VLP access points may obtain information from a geofencing system on locations where operation is prohibited on specific frequencies and the VLP client devices may operate exclusively under control of VLP access points.
- Should new classes of VLPs be permitted that operate at higher power.
- Whether restrictions on mobile use of VLP devices should be relaxed, how VLP devices may interact with C-V2X (“Cellular Vehicle to Everything”) performance in motor vehicles, and whether certain classes of VLP devices may be permitted to operate without a geofencing system.
- For all these proposals, the FCC seeks comment on, among other things, the technical and operational requirements, including procedures for testing and approving VLPs and other NII equipment, and how to best protect incumbent services through these systems.
NEED HELP WITH 6 GHZ EQUIPMENT AUTHORIZATION AND OPERATIONAL DEPLOYMENT?
The CommLaw Group Can Help!
Given the complexity and evolving nature of the FCC’s rules, regulations, policies & procedures for unlicensed radiofrequency equipment authorization and interference protection, The CommLaw Group’s Internet of Things and Connected Devices Group is available to help clients (old and new) tackle their unique responsibilities. Our Group has authored a definitive Domestic and International RF Equipment, IOT, and Connected Devices Compliance Guide; which guides RF equipment suppliers through the complex equipment authorization, marketing, and enforcement rules in the U.S. and many other countries. Our Group is also uniquely qualified to assist in spectrum allocation, rules for operating in unlicensed spectrum, and interference disputes.
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