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One step closer to higher-performance WiFi

November 9, 2022

Plume receives conditional approval to enable higher power transmission for WiFi 6E within the home

Two years ago, the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) made the decision to open the 6 GHz band to unlicensed operators, making much-needed spectrum available to WiFi. By extending the transformative features of WiFi 6 to the 6 GHz spectrum, the FCC ushered in a new era of innovation. On November 2, the Commission took another step toward enabling new technology improvements by conditionally approving the implementation of automated frequency control (AFC) systems for the first cohort of industry players, including Plume. The FCC’s conditional approval allows Plume, along with 12 other WiFi industry leaders, such as Broadcom, Google, Qualcomm, and Sony, to proceed with the testing of their AFC systems. Once Plume’s system is fully approved, Plume would be among the first to integrate an AFC system into its products and services, providing its access points (APs) with the highest transmit power level possible.

What is AFC and why does it matter?

As the number of devices in the home has increased, WiFi networks have become more congested. The problem keeps growing with the explosion of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and high-data-rate internet services. To mitigate WiFi congestion in the home, the communications industry has long been advocating for more WiFi spectrum. Opening up the 6 GHz band to WiFi (enabling WiFi 6E devices) more than doubles the amount of spectrum available, providing benefits such as reduced interference and higher data rates. For consumers, this change has the potential to deliver more reliable and robust WiFi connections in the home. For Communications Services Providers (CSPs), WiFi 6E may offer the opportunity to improve subscribers’ Quality of Experience (QoE) and deliver the more sophisticated services that make smart homes smart. Currently, however, WiFi 6E operation is limited to low-transmission power to avoid interference with point-to-point microwave links, which are currently the primary users of the 6 GHz band. The low-power mode produces a weak signal that has a short transmission distance and typically uses a lower data rate at a given range. In essence, the low power reduces the efficacy of the additional bandwidth for residential services. AFC helps WiFi access points (APs) utilize the highest transmit power level possible while ensuring that they do not interfere with point-to-point microwave links. The AFC system is often able to find frequency channels that will allow the AP to operate at the maximum allowable transmit power, allowing an additional 9dB or more transmit power than under the low-power rules. This advantage in transmit power extends to the client devices connected to the AP—the maximum transmit power they can use is tied to the power level that the AP can use. Since point-to-point microwave link operators must file paperwork with the FCC, the Commission maintains a database of all these locations. The AFC system determines the location of an AP and then queries the FCC database for nearby microwave links using cloud-based software. The AFC system also factors in terrain data that determines how mountains or tall buildings affect the signal pathway between the microwave link and the WiFi device. Using all this information, the system then calculates the power level at which the AP can transmit without interfering with those links. Within the Plume Saas Experience Platform, the information analyzed by the AFC server would flow into the centralized optimization system so the optimizer can choose the best frequency channel the AP should operate on. The Plume optimizer also analyzes data such as interference from neighbors, the types and needs of devices in the home, and the WiFi signal strengths that can be maintained between devices. Based on that analysis, Plume’s Platform transmits instructions back to the AP for the optimum connection in the home. With the AFC system integrated into the Platform, the WiFi 6E devices connected to each AP would utilize the frequency channels that provide the highest performance, factoring the interference levels and the higher transmit powers allowed by AFC, improving range and data rates.

What AFC means for Plume customers:

Each company has its own vision for how it’ll use AFC. Whatever the vision, those that want to deploy AFC must apply for FCC approval to develop their own systems. As one of the 13 companies or organizations to receive the FCC’s conditional approval of their AFC proposal, Plume is part of a leading cohort that can proceed to the testing step. Once fully approved, Plume would be among the first industry players to integrate an AFC system into its products and services. Plume’s cloud-based control system currently serves more than 43 million homes globally. This system already supports WiFi 6E, allowing low-power transmission in the 6 GHz band. Bringing new AFC benefits to our customer base would be an extension of our existing capabilities. We continue to seek new opportunities that give our CSP customers a competitive edge, and creating an AFC system is an important part of our commitment to delivering cutting-edge products. The FCC’s conditional approval allows Plume to move to the testing phase of our AFC system in the US. Plume’s ultimate vision is to enable AFC service to all the homes where we manage WiFi. Our goal is to allow our CSP customers to take greater advantage of the 6 GHz band and increased WiFi capacity to deliver even better experiences to their subscribers.

What’s next:

Although WiFi can currently operate in the 6 GHz band without AFC—and a cloud-based optimization system such as Plume’s can maximize the performance that can be achieved by a low-power system—there are still performance limitations. That’s why the FCC’s launch of the AFC program is so exciting. AFC is what will help WiFi 6E achieve its full promise. And now that Plume is conditionally approved, we are well on the way to bringing our customers even better WiFi services.