Wi-fly: could AFC improve rural connectivity?


In 2020 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to open up the 1.2GHz of spectrum covering the 6GHz band (5.925–7.125GHz) for unlicensed use. This promised the potential to help improve rural connectivity, by enabling Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 standards to deliver better (gigabit-plus) speeds, more simultaneous connections, and better security.

However, this same spectrum is already used by other applications in the US, supporting utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul services.

The FCC’s work around was to treat standard power and low power Wi-Fi differently. Standard home or office low power could use the entire 6GHz band as it was unlikely to cause interference, whilst standard power – used for example in outdoor applications – needed a way to ensure it didn’t interfere with existing microwave systems.

Now the FCC has conditionally approved thirteen automated frequency coordination (AFC) systems to manage spectrum access for unlicensed devices in the 6GHz band.

Essentially standard-power applications use an AFC system to consult a database of existing 6GHz users, their location, frequencies used, and signal coverage to ensure there is no clash with existing systems before transmitting.

The proposed suppliers 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. Each will be required to conduct lab and public testing to assess the AFC system’s functionality.

FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel commented: ‘American businesses and households rely on Wi-Fi for work, school, access to healthcare, and connecting with friends and family. We are moving forward on our plan to open doors for next generation, faster, better Wi-Fi – including Wi-Fi 6E and laying the groundwork for Wi-Fi 7. This is good news and real progress.’

The use of blended technologies for rural connectivity will be discussed at Connected America. Join us in Dallas on the 28-29 March 2023