TR Daily FCC Adopts NPRM Proposing 5.9 GHz Band Sharing
Thursday, December 12, 2019

FCC Adopts NPRM Proposing 5.9 GHz Band Sharing

The FCC today enthusiastically adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking that proposes to divide the 5.9 gigahertz band between unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi and road-safety technologies.

Commissioners said at today’s meeting that the agency’s action 20 years ago allocating 75 MHz of the 5850-5925 megahertz band for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology had not led to significant use of the spectrum, all while Wi-Fi usage has exploded.

“The Commission’s decision to revisit use of the band was prompted by the slow deployment of the DSRC service, the emergence of new transportation and other communication technologies, and escalating demand for unlicensed operations like Wi-Fi,” the agency said in a news release on the item, which was adopted in ET docket 19-138. “The NPRM seeks to achieve a balanced approach that will both improve automobile safety and unleash more wireless innovation for the benefit of the American people.”

The NPRM, which was adopted over the objections of the U.S. Department of Transportation and some auto safety interests, proposes to make the lower 45 MHz of the 5850-5925 MHz band available for unlicensed use and proposes to allocate the upper 20 MHz for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. The NPRM seeks comment on whether to allocate the remaining 10 MHz to C-V2X or DSRC technology.

“After two decades of dormancy, the 5.9 GHz band deserves a fresh look by the FCC. And that’s exactly what we are doing. In this Notice, we tee up a balanced proposal that will advance both unlicensed wireless innovation and automotive safety technologies,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “The reason we’re focusing in part on unlicensed operations is simple. Today, Wi-Fi is a staple of everyday life. It is the fabric that binds together all our devices. It has become a foundational technology for the Internet of Things, connecting virtually any device or appliance you can think of. Wi-Fi currently carries more than half of the Internet’s traffic, and that share will only grow in the future. The next generation of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6, is being rolled out this year and will provide better connections to multiple devices and better performance in congested environments. The economic value created by Wi-Fi in the United States is projected to double by 2023—reaching nearly $1 trillion.”

Mr. Pai stressed that part “of our proposal advances the cause of automotive safety. Specifically, we’re proposing to reserve the remaining 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band exclusively for transportation-related communications technologies. This is consistent with our longstanding support for automotive safety during my tenure. Back in 2017, we ensured there would be a large swath of contiguous spectrum in the 76-to-81 GHz band exclusively for vehicular radars. These radars have proved especially useful for emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.”

Mr. Pai added that the FCC is “not closing the door on DSRC. Japan has a single 10-megahertz channel for DSRC that’s actively used for collision avoidance. In the Notice, we seek comment on whether to designate the remaining 10 megahertz of spectrum in the upper part of the 5.9 GHz band for DSRC or C-V2X. I encourage advocates of each technology to make their cases. This balanced approach—dedicating 45 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band for more unlicensed innovation and 30 megahertz for automotive safety—maximizes the value of the band for the American people. And it would do far more for both automotive safety and Wi-Fi than the status quo.”

In response to a question at a news conference after today’s FCC meeting, Mr. Pai said that the Commission has “done a lot to address” concerns expressed by DoT during discussions about the proceeding earlier this year. He said the FCC “refined” the proposal so it “reflected a focus on the balanced approach” of sharing the spectrum. “That is a reflection of the fact that we recognize there are multiple interests here,” Mr. Pai added.

An earlier draft had proposed reallocating the entire 75 MHz for unlicensed use, an FCC official has said.

Asked why the NPRM proposes allocations for specific technologies, Mr. Pai said that new technologies seemed more promising than DSRC, although DSRC has proven useful in Japan. He also reiterated that the FCC has allocated the 76-81 GHz band for vehicular radars. “I don’t want this to be construed as an FCC vs. transportation discussion,” he added. “I think we’ve demonstrated … the fact that we stand firmly on the side of automotive safety.”

A DoT spokesperson said today that “DOT has significant concerns with the Commission’s proposal. It is important that spectrum is preserved for transportation safety, particularly as technology develops and vehicles are better-connected. The Department would support proposed revisions to the existing band plan in order to promote a technology-neutral approach that lets the market decide what communications technologies will best further the cause of safety. We will continue to work with the FCC on this important issue.”

DoT has argued that the FCC should maintain the 5.9 GHz band for road-safety purposes, while allowing sharing with unlicensed devices if testing shows that is possible without interference.

“The fact is that two decades have passed since this band was designated for Dedicated Short Range Communications systems, commonly referred to as DSRC, and this spectrum still remains – at least by any rational person’s estimation – highly underutilized,” said Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has joined Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in pushing for the FCC to reallocate at least some of the spectrum for unlicensed use. “For 20 years, the Commission has awaited the great promise of vehicular safety DSRC apps to materialize, but what we have actually received are a few localized systems and limited equipment in a discontinued car line. I think it is safe to conclude that this is not a success story by any measure.

“I am in full agreement with the proposal to reallocate 45 megahertz for unlicensed use and 30 megahertz for vehicular safety systems,” Mr. O’Rielly added. “In fact, the Chairman’s proposal is nearly identical to an idea that I discussed publicly and pushed for adoption years ago, as it was consistent with one of the competing industry proposals at the time. It still is the most logical path forward for this band. In particular, it effectively solves the interference issue by splitting the band into two, preserving an exclusive portion dedicated to automobile safety. The lower part of 5.9 GHz is prime spectrum – adjacent to the 5 GHz spectrum that is the Wi-Fi workhorse – and is the obvious and ideal choice, along with 6 GHz, for the much-needed expansion of unlicensed opportunities.”

Mr. O’Rielly also said that he would “have preferred a more technology neutral approach over proposing to allocate certain portions of the remaining band for a specific technology, but it will at least work for this stage of the process.”

“I thank my colleagues for agreeing to my edits to propose a clarification that this band be used to provide safety services. Under no circumstances should we provide valuable spectrum resources in this critical location for any offerings that are not safety related, that are commercially available, or that are offered using other spectrum. Given all the safety rhetoric expended on this issue, I dare anyone to claim that this 30-megahertz block should be used for anything other than safety of life,” Mr. O’Rielly stressed. “Further, I appreciate the addition of a question about steps the Commission can take to assure that these safety applications are actually deployed. If these systems are as important as some in the automobile industry assert, and I have seen demonstrations that certainly show CV2X as promising, they should be deployed with all due haste. We should not have to wait another 20 years with little progress along the way. And, if these safety applications do not develop, we shouldn’t take another 20 years to further reevaluate and reallocate the band either.”

He continued, “Some may try to say that the Commission is taking spectrum away from the automobile industry, which will lead to increased auto fatalities, or that we are putting vehicular safety in jeopardy. Or, that we are doing horrible things just to enable faster Internet connections, sharing Facebook timelines, or posting Instagram pics. That is pure gibberish. Everyone on this dais wants our families, friends, neighbors, and countrymen and women to be safe when traveling in motor vehicles, but DSRC has not come anywhere close to fruition. As this NPRM contemplates, we can simultaneously pursue both auto safety and unlicensed innovation. It’s one reason the bulk of automobile manufacturers have come to recognize the wisdom and forward thinking of this item. Another round of attack will likely come from those who argue that, if a portion of 5.9 [GHz] spectrum is lost, there will never be any more auto safety spectrum in the future. Again, this is false. To the extent there is a [demonstrable] spectrum need in the future for auto safety, the Commission likely will give it full consideration. And, we have a track record to prove it: this Commission did exact that with regards to vehicle radars just a few years ago.”

“Today, autonomous vehicles have moved beyond DSRC to get around and communicate—whether that’s with radar, LIDAR, cameras, sensors, on-board mapping tools, or new cellular technologies, like Cellular-Vehicle to Everything, or C-V2X. Today just a few thousand vehicles have DSRC on board out of the more than 260 million cars on the road,” said Commissioner Rosenworcel. “So let’s be honest: Our bet on DSRC didn’t pan out the way we thought it would. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board has said it will be up to three decades before the majority of vehicles on the road have DSRC capability—which is what is needed for this safety technology to be truly effective. Fifty years from spectrum start to finish is a long time. I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping we will have flying cars by then.

“Let me be clear: we should support automobile safety,” she added. “However, our spectrum policies supporting safety need to be current. So we should speed the way for our thinking about these technologies to be up to totally up to date. And when we do, let’s acknowledge that other countries are doing this using less spectrum than the 75 megahertz that the United States initially set aside and remember that in fact, only a very small portion of those airwaves were set aside by the FCC for basic safety messaging. So it’s time to take a fresh look at this band and see if we can update our commitment to safety and also develop more unlicensed opportunities for Wi-Fi.”

“It’s important because Wi-Fi today is congested,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “Right now, there are over 9 billion Wi-Fi enabled devices. But billions and billions of more devices are coming our way with the internet of things. On top of that, we know that as much as 70 percent of 5G traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi. Add this up, and we will need a significant swath of new unlicensed spectrum to keep up with demand. The 5.9 GHz band is the ideal place to explore Wi-Fi expansion because it’s adjacent to an existing unlicensed band. That means we have the opportunity to introduce new wideband channels—channels that will be able to take advantage of new standards and deliver speeds even faster than 1 gigabit per second.”

“Twenty years ago, the FCC saw promise in using wireless communications spectrum to make transportation safer. I believe that conclusion was correct – Intelligent Transportation System services are critically important and will save lives. Unfortunately, DSRC has fallen short of our expectations,” Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said. “As of today, only one manufacturer has incorporated DSRC technology into its cars in the U.S.—and even then, into only one of its models. Vehicle manufacturers instead use cellular networks and unlicensed spectrum to meet public safety and consumer needs and are turning to 5G networks to implement functionality that was originally intended for DSRC. C-V2X did not exist only a few years ago, and today we are proposing to dedicate up to 30 megahertz for its use. I am pleased that, rather than continuing to be wed to a technology that appears to be stuck in neutral, this agency is showing it can shift into the fast lane of innovation.”

“The 45 MHz at the bottom of the 5.9 GHz band that we propose to free up for unlicensed use can be combined with the similar spectrum adjacent to it. Together, that would enable the first contiguous 160 MHz channel for unlicensed devices, free of any need to use coordination technologies that slow throughput,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said. “This is the type of clear spectrum channels that Wi-Fi advocates have asked for in 6 GHz, and we have a chance through this item to meet that need starting in 5 GHz.”

Julie Knapp, chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology, told reporters that there were no major changes in the item since it was circulated. He said there were “added clarifications and some additional questions. The substance is the same.”

In a joint statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers said in a statement today, “The pending action by the FCC risks lives, slows innovation and runs counter to what the Commission has heard from safety and technical experts. The FCC must consider the significant investment of public and private dollars in V2X deployments and the adverse economic and safety consequences of reallocating the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum to unlicensed technologies. Other spectrum bands, including the 6 GHz band[,] are being made available for unlicensed technologies. Even with today’s action by the Commission, the FCC has an obligation to protect critical safety communications from harmful interference, including unlicensed technologies.”

The groups added, “A flexible plan for using the safety spectrum is needed to promote innovation and accelerate deployment of life-saving transportation technology. The auto industry is ready to deploy V2X technologies using the full 75 MHz to save lives, reduce congestion and help the environment. Seeking to give away the Safety Spectrum for use by Wi-Fi will reduce available safety services and risk lives. We plan to submit comments on the formal proposal during the public comment period to underscore the risk that such an approach raises.”

ITS America President and Chief Executive Officer Shailen Bhatt called the vote on the 5.9 GHz band auction “shameful. The FCC has made a reckless decision that will put drivers, pedestrians and cyclists at risk – and it has done so without any data or analysis. The Commission must preserve the entire safety spectrum for today’s and tomorrow's life-saving transportation technologies. Nothing is more important than saving tens of thousands of lives every year.”

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said, “We are extremely disappointed in the FCC’s decision to pursue the opening of the 5.9 GHz wireless transportation safety spectrum to non-transportation use. The FCC proposal threatens the ongoing investments being made in communications technologies designed to reduce fatalities on the nation’s roadways. AASHTO and its partner organizations will continue to work to dissuade the FCC from pursuing this course of action because compromising safety is not in the best interest of the American people.”

But proponents of unlicensed spectrum and C-V2X advocates – even those that have also urged the FCC to maintain the entire band for road-safety applications – welcomed today’s FCC action.

“Today, the Federal Communications Commission took an important step towards addressing the growing need for unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi use,” the Wi-Fi Alliance said. “Wi-Fi Alliance thanks the Commission for its proposal to repurpose the lower 45 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band to help support high-throughput broadband applications such as Wi-Fi. We look forward to reviewing this 5.9 GHz Band proposal in detail, and continuing to support the Commission in this and other initiatives that will deliver necessary mid-band spectrum to preserve Wi-Fi connectivity for millions of Americans.”

WifiForward said that the FCC’s “unanimous vote to modernize the 5.9 GHz band is a commitment to next-generation Wi-Fi and 5G. This NPRM is a win-win for broadband innovation and for safety. This crucial piece of spectrum can enable next-generation Wi-Fi that will benefit consumers not only on their own devices, but also by enhancing our nation’s transportation infrastructure, public safety, and economy. Wi-Fi already carries the majority of all internet traffic, and this NPRM helps ensure that enough spectrum is available as Wi-Fi carries even more traffic during the 5G rollout. We support the Chairman and his colleagues for championing a new path ahead and look forward to the Commission moving quickly to an Order on this issue.”

“Today’s unanimous pro-consumer action by the Commission proposing to designate a portion of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for unlicensed use is an important step toward ensuring that America’s Wi-Fi networks are able to unleash gigabit speeds and keep up with the tremendous consumer demand for connectivity at home and on the go,” said Michael Powell, president and chief executive officer of NCTA. “This item demonstrates the FCC’s commitment to a balanced spectrum policy which will facilitate the deployment of next-generation networks, and recognizes the massive economic benefit of unlicensed spectrum. We look forward to working with the Commission on the 5.9 GHz proceeding and ensuring that American consumers can enjoy the benefits of next-generation Wi-Fi.”

“Comcast applauds the FCC’s unanimous vote proposing to permit unlicensed services in part of the 5.9 GHz band. As we continue to invest in and increase the performance of our gigabit broadband networks, the FCC’s decision to make the 5.9 GHz band available expeditiously will ensure that the Wi-Fi capacity our customers rely on will continue to match the capabilities of our world-class broadband networks,” said Tony Werner, president-Technology, Product, Xperience at Comcast Cable. “The strong bipartisan support for this item speaks volumes about the importance of this proceeding. The Commission’s compromise proposal is a major step toward delivering next-generation broadband connectivity and strengthening the foundation for 5G, while clearing the path for modern automotive-safety technologies.”

Charter Communications, Inc., said it “applauds Chairman Pai and the FCC for moving forward with an NPRM on 5.9 GHz and appreciates Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel’s longstanding commitment to opening this band for unlicensed use. By making a portion of this highly-valuable band available for unlicensed use after decades of under-utilization, today’s action sets the stage for innovations like ultra-fast, high capacity, multigigabit WiFi that will power connected classrooms, smart homes and remote healthcare for the benefit of consumers.”

“At Broadcom, we are thrilled that the Commission has taken this important step in the 5.9 GHz band to make more spectrum available for Wi-Fi. This key mid-band spectrum offers a contiguous 160 MHz channel, which is essential for AR/VR, wearables and other future innovations. Unlicensed in the 5.9 GHz band, in concert with the 6 GHz band, could create a one-two punch to knock out the spectrum shortage and unleash the full power of Wi-Fi 6,” said Christopher Szymanski, director-product marketing and government affairs for Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division at Broadcom, Inc.

The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) said it “applauds the Federal Communications Commission for recognizing the benefits of Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X). Extensive crash avoidance testing continues to demonstrate that C-V2X technology will deliver safety benefits to the American public. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure spectrum regulations adequately address the needs of transportation safety and facilitate America’s global competitiveness in connected and autonomous vehicle technology.”

The 5GAA filed a petition for waiver last year seeking to deploy C-V2X on 20 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band (TR Daily, Nov. 29, 2018), and it also wants the FCC to open up more of the 5.9 GHz band for the technology. “Qualcomm is very pleased that the FCC approved moving forward with the proposal to allocate the upper 20 MHz of 5.9 GHz for C-V2X, as the 5G Auto Association proposed last year,” said Dean Brenner, senior vice president-spectrum strategy & tech policy for Qualcomm, Inc. “This visionary FCC proposal will enable us to bring the tremendous, unmatched safety benefits from C-V2X to US drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. We will continue to work with the FCC and all other stakeholders to get C-V2X on the air as quickly and broadly as possible.”

“Opening a portion of the unused transportation band for next generation Wi-Fi marks a significant win for consumers. By opening the lower portion of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed public use, the FCC is paving the way gigabit-fast and more affordable Wi-Fi and 5G-capable services in homes and businesses across the country,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Expanding the unlicensed bands that power Wi-Fi is an essential part of a truly robust 5G wireless ecosystem. Wi-Fi already generate hundreds of billions of dollars for the U.S. economy each year as [it’s] become the primary way that consumers and business access data on mobile devices. High-capacity Wi-Fi is also increasingly essential to schools, libraries and other community anchor institutions. This proposal is also a win for consumers because it promotes a new generation of auto safety communications that promises to be integrated with 5G networks.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment

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