Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) announced the approval of seven 6 GHz band Automated Frequency Coordination (“AFC”) systems. The approved systems include offerings from Qualcomm Incorporated, Federated Wireless, Inc., Sony Group Corporation, Comsearch, the Wi-Fi Alliance Services Corporation, the Wireless Broadband Alliance, Inc., and Broadcom Inc.
In 2020, the FCC adopted a Report and Order opening portions of the 6 GHz band for expanded unlicensed operations. Under Commission rules, standard-power access points and fixed client devices are required to operate under the control of AFC systems in the 5.925-6.425 and 6.525-6.875 GHz portions of the 6 GHz band. These portions of the 6 GHz band are used by licensed fixed and temporary-fixed point-to-point microwave systems. The FCC requires AFC systems to coordinate unlicensed operations to prevent harmful interference to these incumbent links.
In 2021, the Commission requested proposals from prospective AFC operators, and in 2022, it conditionally approved thirteen entities to operate AFC systems. The following year, the FCC allowed the selected AFC systems to commence testing, which included both lab testing by an FCC-recognized accredited laboratory and an online public trial where challenges could be submitted directly to the AFC system operator. Based on the information collected during the testing period, seven AFC system operators were formally approved after demonstrating compliance with the Commission’s 6 GHz unlicensed rules.
As of February 23, 2024, the seven approved AFC systems were eligible to commence commercial operations. The FCC is requiring the operators to develop a centralized means to receive and address complaints regarding harmful interference from AFC-authorized unlicensed operations by April 23, 2024, or risk losing approved status.
The FCC is also considering the application of C3Spectra Inc. to be approved as an AFC operator, and the public will have the opportunity to review and comment on their proposal until March 15, 2024. If conditionally approved, C3Spectra will be eligible to begin the testing period as described above.
Commission approval of these AFC operators opens the door to expanded spectrum access for industry players and increased wireless connectivity for consumers, driven by innovative technologies. At the same time, incumbent microwave licensees should be aware of the forthcoming increased traffic in these portions of the 6 GHz band and be quick to identify and issue complaints when harmful interference occurs.
As the Commission continues to expand unlicensed operations, it is important for incumbent licensees to protect their systems from interference. Microwave licensees in the 5.925-6.425 and 6.525-6.875 GHz portions of the 6 GHz band should pay close attention to the complaint procedures established by these AFC system operators in the coming months so that issues can be addressed swiftly.