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FCC's Rosenworcel, TAC Chair Say US Needs to Focus Now on 6G

The FCC’s newly reconstituted Technology Advisory Council met for the second time Thursday, dedicated to exploring 6G, as directed by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. She and TAC members said 5G is still in early stages, but it’s not too early to focus on the next generation of wireless. TAC heard updates from its working groups on the work they have done so far during a virtual meeting.

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In the past few months I've been asked several times if it was too early to begin planning for 6G,” said TAC Chairman Dean Brenner, a former Qualcomm executive. “I disagree strongly,” he said: “It is true that 5G is in an early stage. 5G will continue to evolve and improve. … As a country we cannot rest on our laurels. The world does not wait for us to wake up and begin working on 6G and other emerging technologies.”

Rosenworcel didn’t “jump the gun” by ordering a 6G focus now, Brenner said. “The FCC needs our best input now, while 6G is on the whiteboard, not later when it’s going to be too late,” he said.

Rosenworcel apologized for missing the TAC’s initial meeting in February, noting she did so because she was in Barcelona to give a speech on 6G (see 2203010070). “I made the case for why this version of the FCC TAC is so important,” she said. “I used this high-profile platform to say now is the time to start talking and planning for 6G,” she said.

TAC is the only government-affiliated group specifically focused on 6G, so the pressure is on, Rosenworcel said. TAC has played a leadership role in the past in areas including the launch of the citizens broadband radio service band, she said. “We are absolutely looking forward to more insights from this group on the key questions and getting more use out of our scarce spectrum resources through creative ideas about sharing and other things that you come up with,” she said. Rosenworcel stressed the need for focus on open radio access networks. “When the TAC talks, the FCC’s leadership listens,” she said.

The 6G Working Group is looking at the need for more spectrum and vulnerabilities in the supply chain “and the changing dynamics of global standards development,” said co-Chair Brian Daly, AT&T assistant vice president-standards and industry alliances. The WG is considering ORAN and virtual RAN, whether “adequate levels of security” are provided and what “cost-benefit trade-offs to consider,” he said. The WG will look at the use of millimeter wave and THz bands for fronthaul and backhaul “to support what’s anticipated to be the dense deployment of 6G systems,” he said.

We are also looking at how applications for 6G will enhance or utilize autonomous driving, edge computing, emergency alerting and smart city-technology deployments,” Daly said. Another focus is how 6G can help close the digital divide by lowering the cost of delivering broadband, he said. “Obviously, as we look towards 6G, intelligence and intelligent capabilities within the network are going to improve the utilization and administration of spectrum,” he said. Daly said in many areas it will have to coordinate with other WGs.

The Advanced Spectrum Sharing WG is looking closely at how sharing has worked in the TV white spaces, CBRS and the nascent 6 GHz, with its use of automated frequency control (AFC), said co-Chair Andrew Clegg, representing the Wireless Innovation Forum.

When you look at how all three of those systems develop, there's a lot of commonality” in the way those systems operate, were standardized and were approved by the government, Clegg said: “We have now accumulated basically three sets of data about what is the best way for this to develop.” A lot of the challenges in standards for 6 GHz AFC “very closely echo” challenges in CBRS and the white spaces, he said. “Is there a way to catalog these commonalities so we are not reinventing the wheel every time we develop standards or rules for a shared spectrum framework?” he asked.

The thing that I keep finding missing is the issue of intermodulation,” said Dale Hatfield, former chief of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) and former acting NTIA administrator. “When you talk about doing things quickly” identifying sources of intermodulation noise “takes a long time,” he said. “I’m concerned that we’re not addressing adequately the whole topic,” he said: “We could end up with a real mess on our hands.” The challenges multiply “as we increase the density of devices, some of them quite high powered,” he said.

Ron Repasi, acting OET chief, said TAC seems to be making progress since February. Repasi said he was initially concerned about overlap among the working groups, but many areas “blend together, and they all support each other in the name of deploying a healthy and secure 6G network.” TAC is expected to next meet in September, possibly in person at the FCC.