FCC Approves Standard Power Access Points for Unlicensed 6GHz Access: What This Means for Fixed Wireless

● Mar 6, 2023

In this blog post, we discuss the FCC's recent conditional approval of standard power access points and incumbent point-to-point microwave systems to share spectrum in the 5GHz band, and what it means for network operators. We explain how automated frequency coordination (AFC) will be integrated into a SAS platform to ensure connected devices utilize frequency channels that provide maximum performance, and how this will help providers deliver faster, more reliable internet speeds to their customers. We also provide details on how operators can get started with standard power access points and experimental licenses, as well as what's next for the 6GHz band, including the upcoming opening of the UNII-5 and UNII-7 bands for outdoor wireless broadband applications.

The FCC has recently taken a major step towards the commercialization of unlicensed 6GHz access, by allowing Standard Power Access Points (SPs) and incumbent Point-to-Point microwave systems to share spectrum within this new space. After granting conditional approval in November 2022's Public Notice DA-22-1146, companies are now one step closer to achieving full operational capabilities! This is a crucial milestone on the path to help the growing demand for affordable and enhanced broadband access using Fixed wireless.

Nearly three years ago, The FCC voted to unleash 1,200 MHz for unlicensed use in the 6GHz band (5.925-6.425 and 6.525-6.875), tripling the available unlicensed spectrum.

It was in September 2021, that the FCC asked for proposals for AFC (Automatic Frequency Coordination) from all the operators. Those include: Broadcom, Comsearch – a CommScope company, Federated Wireless, Google, Key Bridge Wireless, Kyrio (a subsidiary of CableLabs), Nokia, Plume, RED Technologies, Sony, Qualcomm, the Wi-Fi Alliance, and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) - (Public Notice DA-22-1146)

Allowing 6Ghz Standard power (36dBm) will bring the capability to enable outdoor operations as well as new innovations from manufacturers like Cambium, Tarana, Mimosa, Radwin, and others.

Current Rules for 6GHz Use

Today, a low-power indoor mode of operation for unlicensed in 6GHz is accessible in the U.S. today using Wifi6e for indoor use applications. However, anything requiring "external or connectorized antennas" isn't currently available outdoors; making stadium deployments, FWA, and other examples infeasible with low-power devices alone.

This is where Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) allows applications utilizing more than 1 Watt of energy which can be employed both outdoors and indoors when standard power mode is selected within 6GHz unlicensed spectrum range.

AFC Integration with SAS Platform Enhances Unlicensed 6GHz Access and Optimal User Experience

The AFC system will be integrated into a SAS platform using cloud access (similar to CBRS or Citizens Broadband Radio Service) and this SAS platform will help ensure connected devices utilize frequency channels that provide maximum performance. This is completed by calculating transmit power levels using the FCC database, this capability allows APs to powerfully broadcast without conflicting or interfering with point-to-point microwave links or incumbents, at the same time this SAS/AFC system will help enhance things such as the device range and data throughput for an optimal user experience.

Now unlike CBRS, AFC providers are able to sidestep the complexities of military radar operations that exist in the 3.5GHz band, allowing for a more straightforward approach thanks to publicly available information on about 6Ghz incumbents found within FCC databases. Aggregate interference is also less likely an issue due to these incumbents using strictly fixed microwave links and lack of mobility - completely eliminating cross-solution synchronization as it's seen with CBRS systems using SAS. Rather than relying on outdated techniques, this new method draws upon cutting-edge spectrum management tools and access coordination with much less headache.

The integration of AFC-enabled APs and associated client devices means that fixed wireless and Wi-Fi networks can perform up to 60 times faster than traditional 5GHz networks. This technology also increases Wi-Fi coverage range and promises greater reliability of low latency broadband in both indoor and outdoor settings. The upcoming IEEE 802.11be, also known as 'Wi-Fi 7', is designed to tie into future AFC operations and will provide multi-gigabit speed capabilities over a wide channel network for improved end-user experiences.

Getting Started with (SP) Standard Power Access Points

If you are a network operator and want to start taking advantage of (SP) Standard Power Access Points right away, your next step is to apply for an experimental license.

How to Apply for an Experimental License

If you are a network operator and want to start taking advantage of (SP) Standard Power Access Points right away, your next step is to apply for an experimental license.

  1. Fill out the experimental license request with the OET (FCC Office of Engineering and Technology).
    **NOTE: To avoid any incurring attorney’s fees, the process can be completed by the owner/operator. You can reach out to us for assistance if needed as well!
    Contact us.
  2. Once the request is submitted you'll want to keep an eye out for emails from the FCC representative as they may need you to provide additional information.
  3. Once the license is granted by the FCC/OET then you can send a copy of these licenses to Wlanmall to help begin the process of shipping equipment.
  4. When equipment is received and the operator provides the experimental license, usually the vendor will provide a firmware upgrade to allow the radio to operate in the experimental bands.

Important Considerations

  • You must have a FRN number assigned to your organization. 
  • It is the operator’s responsibility to fully comply with the regulations dictated in the experimental license.
  • Experimental licenses do not typically allow for commercial services to be deployed, but operators can use this equipment to test the capabilities of the spectrum and the product; for example, performing coverage and capacity testing and other deployment modeling ahead of the full FCC approval of the band.


What’s Next for 6GHz

It is expected that sometime in 2023, the FCC will open the 6GHz band for outdoor applications in the United States and territories under FCC jurisdiction.

The new 6GHz spectrum will not require an experimental license and includes the UNII-5 and UNII-7 bands and will open 850 MHz of new spectrum for outdoor wireless broadband applications.

The rules are expected to use AFC (Automatic Frequency Coordination) from one of the approved applicants. The AFC will check the lat/long location of each radio as it goes into operation and then periodically verifies which frequencies can be used to avoid incumbent licensed 6GHz services. Each vendor has developed products compatible with the new 6GHz band and the AFC and is now awaiting formal approval from the FCC before doing the full commercial launch.

We'll keep you posted!

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A Timeline of The FCC’s Opening of 6GHz and The Process to Find AFC Applicants

Conditional Approval of AFC to Manage Access to 6GHz

The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) conditionally approves thirteen entities to operate automated frequency coordination (AFC) systems to manage access to 6GHz band spectrum by standard-power unlicensed devices: 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.

This conditional approval begins the next phase of the process toward full commercial operations. As these thirteen entities continue to develop their AFC systems, the next step in the approval process will entail testing to verify that they operate in accordance with the Commission’s rules. Testing protocols are still under development and more information will be provided in future releases. OET will approve for commercial operations those AFC systems that successfully complete testing.

Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

On April 23, 2020, the Commission adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (6GHz Report and Order) that made broad swaths of the 6GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz) available for expanded unlicensed operations, including broadband operations.

  • The 6GHz "Report and Order" adopted rules for two different types of unlicensed operations—standard-power operations and low-power indoor operations such as Wifi.
  • For standard-power operations, standard-power access points and fixed client devices operate under the control of AFC systems in two portions of the 6GHz band—the U-NII-5 band (5.925-6.425 GHz) and the U-NII-7 band (6.525-6.875 GHz).
  • The U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 bands are heavily used by licensed point-to-point microwave systems.
  • In addition, the 6.65-6.6752 GHz portion of the U-NII-7 band is used for radio astronomy observations at a limited number of observatories.
  • The AFC systems will manage access to spectrum by the standard-power access points and fixed client devices to prevent harmful interference from occurring to the microwave systems and radio observatories.
Expanded unlicensed use of the 6GHz Band

Steps for Approving AFC Systems

The 6GHz Report and Order specified a multi-stage process laying out the steps that OET must follow to approve AFC systems.

  • The first requirement directed OET to issue a public notice soliciting proposals from prospective AFC system operators while providing an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposals.
  • OET is then directed to conditionally approve applicants who demonstrate their AFC systems will comply with all AFC requirements.
  • The conditionally approved AFC systems are then required to provide a test system that will be subject to a public trial period.
  • The trial period will include testing, both in a controlled environment (e.g., lab testing) and through demonstration projects (e.g., field testing), to provide interested parties an opportunity to check that the AFC systems provide accurate results.

Request for Proposals from AFC Operators

On September 28, 2021, the Commission issued a Public Notice requesting proposals from prospective AFC system operators.

  • The Public Notice requested that applicants submit their proposals by November 30, 2021, to become part of the initial evaluation process. AFC system operator applications received after that date would still be considered, but they may not be considered concurrently with those received by the deadline. Members of the public were invited to comment on the proposals by December 21, 2021. In response to the Public Notice, the Commission received fourteen applications to operate AFC systems.
  • The Commission also received 8 comments regarding the applications.
  • Between January 27, 2021, and February 10, 2021, OET staff held meetings with representatives of each of the fourteen applicants and requested that they provide additional information regarding their applications.
  • Thirteen of the applicants provided supplemental information, while one applicant, Amdocs, withdrew its application.

13 AFC Database Systems Approved for 6GHz Band

On November 2nd, 2022, The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) conditionally approved 13 proposed automated frequency coordination (AFC) database systems to develop operations for the 6GHz band.

  • The next phase involves testing in lab and public settings, pending final general avaibility and access.


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