The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to allow unregulated devices to use the 6 GHz band to wirelessly communicate over short ranges. Apple could use this to enable fast communication between its Vision AR headsets and other computers, like an iPhone.
Apple is one of several companies that asked the FCC to make the change back in 2019.
FCC 6 GHz ruling improves wireless tethering for AR headsets and more
Augmented reality headsets need to be very powerful but potential customers also want them to be small and lightweight. It’s a combination no company has successfully pulled off yet.
One way of achieving the goal is to offload some of the processing to a nearby computer. But the two need to communicate with each other very quickly for this to be useful. And many customers won’t want wires between the headset and another device.
That’s where wireless tethering and the 6 GHz band come in. After today’s FCC rule change, an AR headset and a computer can talk to each other at high speed over this unlicensed spectrum.
“These rules will spur an eco-system of cutting-edge applications, including wearable technologies and augmented and virtual reality, that will help businesses, enhance learning opportunities, advance healthcare opportunities, and bring new entertainment experiences,” the FCC said in a statement.
May play a role in future Apple AR headsets
The Apple Vision Pro headset scheduled to launch in early 2024 doesn’t make use of wireless tethering. It does all its processing on its own. But the result is a very expensive product that requires an external battery pack. Leaks coming from Apple indicate that the device is larger and heavier than executives prefer.
A future visionOS headset might use the 6 GHz band to enabled processing to be offloaded to an iPhone. That could make the wearable smaller and lighter. Maybe even more affordable.
Or maybe not. Apple supposedly exported the idea early in the development of Vision Pro and went with a self-contained model instead.
Low power, high speed wireless connectivity
The FCC permitted Wi-Fi to start using the 6 GHz band back in 2020 for faster connections. That enabled Wi-Fi 6E in current Apple products as well as the upcoming Wi-Fi 7.
Today’s FCC ruling seeks to prevent the new use for the 6 GHz spectrum from interfering with Wi-Fi networks.
“The new rules however are careful to limit these devices to very low power levels and subject them to other technical and operational requirements that will permit these devices to operate across the United States while protecting incumbent licensed services that operate in the 6 GHz band,” the FCC said.