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Meta, Apple, Google cheer FCC ruling that could spur new VR, AR apps

An attendee uses a Meta Platforms Inc. Quest 3 virtual reality (VR) headset during an event in San Francisco, California, US, on Sept. 18, 2023. 

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday agreed to open a band of spectrum for some devices in a move that could help pave the way for new applications of augmented and virtual reality wearables.

The agency unanimously voted to open the 6 GHz band to what what they call “a new class of very low power devices,” like wearable technology.

The FCC expects it 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,” according to a press release.

Meta cheered the move, with vice president of North America policy Kevin Martin saying in a statement that the vote is “a shining example of a government regulator working with industry early to build for the future.”

The company sees the opening of the 6 GHz band as an important step in its vision for its smart glasses. The development means that future generations of these kinds of devices could have greater functionality even when the wearer is outside of their home and away from a strong WiFi connection.

“The 6 GHz band has become critical for the future of wireless connectivity,” Google‘s hardware group, Pixel, said in a post on X (formerly Twitter). “Today’s vote by the FCC is a win for Pixel users and American consumers, as this band will now be available for high-speed peer-to-peer WiFi communication.”

The company describes a peer-to-peer connection on its Android developers site as a way for devices to
“connect directly to each other via Wi-Fi without an intermediate access point,” which it says can be useful for multiplayer games and photo-sharing apps.

Apple similarly called the FCC vote “a positive step forward,” in a statement on Thursday.

When the FCC solicited comments on opening unlicensed use of the 6 GHz band in 2020, Apple, Broadcom, Meta and Google advocated for the agency to take up the proposal, saying it would “enable critical use cases as part of the next generation 5G ecosystem.”

In a written comment at the time, the companies said that creating a class of very low power (VLP) devices — which would include AR and VR tools, headphones and game controllers — with access to the 6 GHz band would allow these tools to become more mobile, able to operate without a wire and out of the home.

“This capability, combined with low latencies and high data rates, would support new critical use cases, from training for life-saving surgeries to assisting blind and low-vision Americans,” the companies wrote at the time.

They also warned that failure to allow more portable and outdoor use of AR/VR glasses would “severely curtail their utility” for use cases like “jogging or hiking or next-generation fan experiences at sporting events.”

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