Update: The WLAN Association has announced that the FCC has, as we predicted, voted in favor.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that it will be voting on a plan to open up the 6GHz band for general use by device makers.

The FCC positions this as a fivefold increase in the spectrum available for Wi-Fi use, but in reality, it will be used for very short-range communications, with two specific uses likely by Apple…

Apple was one of a number of tech companies to call on the FCC to permit them to use this frequency for what are known as Very Low Power (VLP) applications. The Cupertino company is likely to use this in two ways.

First, it would be ideal for higher-bandwidth mobile hotspots, like tethering an iPad to a 5G iPhone. This would ensure that the iPad could take full advantage of the much faster speeds available from mmW 5G.

Second, this high-bandwidth link would be perfect for connecting AR/VR goggles to smartphones. Apple is believed to be working on its own smart glasses commonly referenced as Apple Glasses.

The reason the 6GHz band hasn’t yet been made available is over concerns that it could interfere with the microwave links used by telecoms companies, but we’ve previously explained why this is unlikely.

One objection has been that cellular companies rely on the 6GHz band for what’s known as ‘backhaul’ — the connection between mobile base stations and the core network. Some of this relies on point-to-point microwave links, for example to connect an antenna in a remote area to the nearest wired part of the network […]

There is no real-world risk of interference for two reasons.

First, microwave antennas are typically mounted very high up, to clear surrounding terrain, which puts them out of range of VLP devices, even at close range.

Second, the real-life range of VLP transmissions is further reduced by the fact that they are used next to people and inside vehicles, both of which block transmissions.

The FCC’s statement strongly suggests that it is likely to approve the request. FCC chairman Ajit Pai said:

From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded. That trend will only continue. Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to Wi-Fi by 2022. To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five. This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks. And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.

The vote has been scheduled for April 23.

Concept image: iDropNews

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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