July 26, 2019
Apple, Broadcom, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, Marvell, Microsoft and Qualcomm are all petitioning the FCC to approve a Very Low Power (VLP) category of Wi-Fi, which would allow them to take advantage of the FCC’s recent opening up of the 6GHz band for unlicensed activity. VLP would enable short-range, point-to-point connections between two devices that travel below a specific power threshold (14 dBm EIRP); they say they can deliver 2Gbps at a distance of three meters — and that VLP is necessary for the proliferation of 5G.
The Verge reports that the tech companies say VLP will be necessary for next generation AR/VR glasses, among other uses. But it’s not that simple. Although Wi-Fi has thus far been built on unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum, the FCC opened the 6GHz band “for unlicensed activity as well, providing a huge 1,200MHz chunk of wireless real estate for all manner of devices to communicate without needing to rely on cellular.”
Needless to say, the cellular industry (as well as water and power utilities) cried foul, saying they need 6GHz microwave antennas for communication backhaul and they’re worried about interference.
The cellular industry argues that the FCC would do better to auction off 6GHz spectrum, which they can buy and then use for 5G. At the same time, “Wi-Fi chipmakers and hardware manufacturers … [are] pushing hard with potential solutions for that interference worry,” including Automatic Frequency Coordination (AFC), “which could theoretically detect and stop harmful interference … but requires that Wi-Fi devices be registered in a database.”
The Verge suggests that the tech companies’ claim of needing VLP for AR glasses is a bit disingenuous since, “we’re still waiting for smart glasses to materialize, period … and it’s interesting because presumably, any of these devices could integrate its own 5G cellular modem to connect to a 5G network directly, cutting out the Wi-Fi middleman.”
Wi-Fi “might make more sense, because cellular devices drain their batteries faster, and because carriers love their per-device monthly fees,” adds the reporter. “That’s why mobile hotspots and tethering are great, and it’s true that VR and AR headsets could benefit from the lower latency that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are promising, if you combine cellular with a short-range Wi-Fi tether.”
Time will tell whether the FCC finds the tech companies’ or the cellular industry’s competing claims more compelling.