Telecoms Series | Unlicensed use for Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band

Telecoms Series | Unlicensed use for Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band

At a meeting of its Board of Directors held last February 25, ANATEL (National Telecommunications Agency, the telecommunications regulatory body in Brazil) unanimously approved the full use of 1,200 MHz in the 6 GHz band (5,925 to 7,125 MHz) for internal unlicensed use.  The decision resulted in Act No. 1306/2021 of the same Agency, which was published in the Brazilian Official Gazette (DOU) on March 04, and enables the availability of wireless Internet connections known as Wi-Fi 6E.

According to Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi is the most commonly used wireless technology, being the primary medium for global Internet traffic, with 16 billion devices in use.  Wi-Fi 6, in turn, corresponds to the latest generation of Wi-Fi, based on the IEEE 802.11ax standard of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and includes devices that can operate in the 6 GHz band, being referred to as Wi-Fi 6E.  

The allocation of the 6 GHz band for internal unlicensed use had been proposed by ANATEL in 2020 and was the subject of a public consultation, completed in January 2021.  The approval of the proposal occurred in disagreement with the requests of some operators, which intended to reserve 500 MHz for 5G applications, but in line with what was defended by other operators (such as Oi) and technology companies (such as Facebook).

Act No. 1306/2021 amended Exhibit I to Act No. 14,448/2017, which approved the Technical Requirements for the Assessment of Conformity of Restricted Radiation Radiocommunication Equipment.  The changes introduced determine that the use of equipment compatible with Wi-Fi 6E must be in an indoor environment, aiming to mitigate interference in satellite stations and microwave links.  However, as reported, ANATEL has already started studies to possibly allow outdoor use subsequently.  

In addition, the Act also establishes limitations with respect to the power for (i) indoor access points (access points that operate in the 5,925-7,125 MHz band, which have the capacity to perform network formation, have a routing mechanism among segments of wired and wireless networks, and have a direct connection to the Internet); (ii) subordinate access points (which operate in the same range mentioned above under the control of an indoor access point, but which do not have a direct connection to the Internet, and the use of which for connecting devices among separate buildings or structures is not permitted); (iii) indoor access point’s client equipment (which operate in the same range, the transmission of which is under the control of an indoor access point and which do not have the capacity to form a network), as well as (iv) very low power equipment (portable equipment that might operate in the referred range in open or closed environments).  

Furthermore, in accordance with Act No. 1306/2021, battery power is prohibited in indoor access points and subordinate access points. However, this type of power is allowed in the case of very low power equipment, the use of which is not restricted to indoor environments, and which can coexist with other services in the 6 GHz band.  

ANATEL states that, with such technical terms, Wi-Fi 6E will result in higher transmission rates, better experience of multiple access, channels of 160 MHz, and lower power consumption, in line with new emerging technologies.  

Also, according to the understanding of the same Agency, the internal unlicensed use under the approved formats, in addition to avoiding idleness of the spectrum, a scarce resource, favors competitiveness, new solutions and business models for the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M), as well as the participation of new players.

Alongside the USA, South Korea and Chile, Brazil is one of the first countries to allocate all 1,200 MHz of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6E and ANATEL expects the country to become a reference regarding the topic, even intending to propose the adoption of its technical requirements as a harmonization standard for the Americas at the meeting of Citel (Inter-American Telecommunication Commission, an entity of the Organization of American States responsible for matters related to telecommunications) which will take place in April of this year.

As recently published by ANATEL on its webpage, studies foresee that the allocation of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi 6E will imply a contribution to the Brazilian GDP in the amount of USD 112.14 billion in the period from 2021 to 2030, in addition to accelerating the countrys digital transformation.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized, in December 2020, the first device for use in the spectrum in the USA and, according to its statement, the leverage of the 6 GHz band for the unlicensed operation of Wi-Fi 6E will in fact provide faster connectivity speeds and better capacity compared to Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.  These factors make Wi-Fi 6E ideal for virtual and augmented reality devices, as well as smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

Wi-Fi Alliance foresees that more than 300 million devices with Wi-Fi 6E technology will be available on the market in 2021. In Brazil, it is expected that such equipment will be commercialized in the near future, as soon as the competent area of ANATEL concludes its certification.

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