Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai called for the re-examination of the allocation of 5.9 GHz spectrum, outlining several options for the 75 megahertz that to this point has been set aside for vehicle-to-vehicle automobile communications.
“I believe that the time has come for the FCC to take a fresh look at this band,” Pai said at a Wi-Fi Now event this week in Tysons Corner, Virginia. “We should open up a rulemaking proceeding, seek comment on various proposals for the band’s future, and use the record that we compile to make a final decision on how the band should be allocated.”
The 5.9 GHz band is currently allocated for Dedicated Short Range Communications, aka DSRC. While automakers have opposed any attempts to re-allocate the spectrum that was dedicated 20 years ago for DSRC use — and a few have even made early forays into installing the wireless technology in vehicles — Pai noted that cellular vehicle-to-everything has gained substantial momentum as a V2X communications standard.
The FCC has been exploring the possible re-allocation of the DSRC band for a number of years. Last October, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology released testing results which showed that prototype devices (Wi-Fi and DSRC) could successfully share 5.9 GHz spectrum. At the time those test results were released, Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel both called for a new rulemaking to reexamine how the 5.9 GHz band is allocated — so there certainly seems to be broad commission support to move ahead with exploring different options for the band. And the FCC has been supplementing its work at making millimeter wave spectrum available, with increased focus on what midband spectrum could be put into play for commercial wireless services.
In his remarks, Pai laid out four potential paths for the DSRC spectrum:
-Maintain the status quo and leave the band’s allocation as-is. “Given the history of and outlook for DSRC, I am quite skeptical that this is a good idea,” Pai said. “But we shouldn’t rule it out entirely before we even begin a review of the band’s future.”
-The band could be allocated for C-V2X specifically (rather than DSRC) or for automotive communications generally.
-The FCC could allow for sharing between automotive and unlicensed use: possibly allowing sharing in the lower 45 megahertz of the band, with the upper 30 megahertz reserved only for V2V technologies. The band could also be split along those lines, with 45 megahertz reserved for unlicensed use and 30 megahertz for V2V communications.
“Making the right choice won’t be easy,” Pai said, because the decision will have to weigh both the benefits of additional unlicensed spectrum as well as automotive safety and the various technologies in play.
“I know that reasonable people may disagree about the future of the 5.9 GHz band,” he continued. “But that is not a reason to avoid the conversation. Most people of good faith will agree on at least this: We can’t keep kicking this can down the road,” Pai said. “This valuable mid-band spectrum is largely lying fallow, and it has been so for two decades now—just as the Internet has gone from dial-up modems to gigabit Wi-Fi. Given this, inertia isn’t a responsible thing for policymakers to indulge. It is time to launch a comprehensive review of the future of the 5.9 GHz band, make a sober assessment of the facts, and then make a timely decision on the best way forward.”
In terms of other spectrum, Pai also asked for creative solutions from industry to help address the issues in the 6 GHz band, so that the band could be used for spectrum sharing with unlicensed use. The FCC put out a notice of proposed rulemaking on that spectrum last fall, and it has garnered ongoing input from various industry stakeholders.
The C band spectrum between 5.925 GHz and 7.125 GHz, Pai said, “could be a massive, 1,200-megahertz test bed for innovators and innovation.” But he went on to say that the band “is populated by microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul. Each of these serves an important function that we must protect. We’re working through some complex technical issues both internally and with outside stakeholders, and that includes many in this room. I appreciate your input. But questions remain and the clock is always ticking, so I urge you to help us find creative solutions.”
Opponents of the use of the C band for unlicensed operations include satellite operators; oil and gas companies such as Chevron, which rely on the spectrum for microwave backhaul for its Gulf Coast offshore operations; and public safety organization such as APCO International. Supporters of the FCC’s NPRM for sharing the spectrum with unlicensed operations include Apple, Facebook, Google, Qualcomm and others. At a cable conference earlier this year, Pai reportedly said that the commission will not rush a decision on how the band might be repurposed.