TR Daily Pai Announces Plan to Launch 5.9 GHz Band Rulemaking
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pai Announces Plan to Launch 5.9 GHz Band Rulemaking

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that he plans to ask his fellow Commissioners to open a rulemaking to consider whether the agency should reallocate the 5.9 gigahertz band for unlicensed devices or leave it as is, which he said he was “skeptical” of doing, or choose something in between.

“Given the swirl of the debate and the vast technological changes that have occurred since the Commission allocated the 5.9 GHz band 20 years ago, I believe that the time has come for the FCC to take a fresh look at this band. 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,” Mr. Pai said in the text of a speech he delivered to the Wi-Fi World Congress USA Expo & Conference in Virginia.

“Unfortunately, while Wi-Fi hit the gas in 1999 and never looked back, DSRC [dedicated short-range communications] has been stuck in neutral,” the Chairman said.

“What are our choices? First, we could maintain the status quo. Given the history of and outlook for DSRC, I am quite skeptical that this is a good idea. But we shouldn’t rule it out entirely before we even begin a review of the band’s future,” Mr. Pai said. “Second, we could allocate the 5.9 GHz band for C-V2X [cellular vehicle-to-everything] specifically or for automotive communications technologies generally. I know that many in the automotive industry are interested in ideas like these, and I believe that they merit thoughtful consideration.

“Next, we come to options that should be of more interest to the people in this room. We could allow for sharing between unlicensed devices and automotive communications technologies in the lower 45 MHz of the band, while reserving the upper 30 MHz exclusively for vehicle-to-vehicle technologies. We could split the band, with the lower 45 MHz allocated exclusively for unlicensed and the upper 30 MHz allocated exclusively for vehicle-to-vehicle technologies. Or we could allocate the entire 75 MHz band exclusively for unlicensed use,” Mr. Pai added.

“Making the right choice won’t be easy. Automotive safety is obviously important — that’s why I led the FCC to allocate a large contiguous band of spectrum (76–81 GHz) exclusively for vehicular radars back in 2017. And as we evaluate the future of the 5.9 GHz band, we’ll need to consider what the future of automotive safety technology is likely to look like and the spectrum needs of such technologies, including whether they will require specifically dedicated airwaves,” Mr. Pai stressed. “But making more spectrum available for unlicensed devices is also important and could have a big impact. What kind of potential are we talking about for the 5.9 GHz band? Well, this past November, Rand put out a study that said opening up these airwaves for Wi-Fi could add between $60 and $105 billion annually to our nation’s gross domestic product. That’s a lot of potential.”

He added that he knows “that reasonable people may disagree about the future of the 5.9 GHz band. 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. 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.”

Sources told TR Daily today that Mr. Pai plans to circulate a draft 5.9 GHz band item tomorrow for consideration at the FCC’s June 6 meeting, while other sources said they didn’t know when Mr. Pai planned to circulate the item.

In his speech today, Mr. Pai said that “[a]s excited as I am about what we’re doing with the 5.9 GHz band, the Commission’s work on the 6 GHz band could be even bigger. This past October, the FCC began to explore opening up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum between 5.925 GHz and 7.125 GHz for different types of unlicensed uses” (TR Daily, Oct. 23, 2018).

“That brings me to one of the most important messages I want to deliver today: We are going to need help to make this work,” he said. “The 6 GHz 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. Let’s enable a speaker at a Wi-Fi Congress twenty years hence to pin this as a breakthrough moment for the wireless innovation of the future.”

The auto industry has argued that the FCC should retain the current 75 MHz allocation in the 5850-5925 MHz band for auto purposes, allowing sharing with unlicensed devices only if it can be shown that they won’t cause interference. Wi-Fi advocates have asked the agency to repurpose at least some of the spectrum or at least to permit sharing.

FCC Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel have long supported a broad notice of proposed rulemaking on use of the spectrum, arguing that DSRC technology is outdated and there are more modern ways to accomplish the same road safety functions. Testing on DSRC and Wi-Fi coexistence has been ongoing for years.

“Chairman Pai is right: there has been no new spectrum for Wi-Fi in the key mid-bands since 2003, but in that time, Wi-Fi has become the lifeblood of our wireless economy, and carries the majority of all internet traffic. WiFi is used for everything from medical telemetry and connected learning, to billions of dollars in secure financial transactions and critical machine communications. As Americans depend on more and more connected devices, they will increasingly look to Wi-Fi to power these crucial services and their 5G future,” WifiForward said in a statement. “Because of this, we are pleased to hear of the Chairman’s plan for forward motion in the 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz bands. We look forward to hearing about the details.”

“We welcome Chairman Pai’s call for action that would take a fresh look at the 5.9 Ghz band and consider how to best supercharge America’s Wi-Fi networks,” NCTA said. “As we’ve noted, the 5.9 Ghz band is the best spectrum band available that can help fulfill our promise of delivering gigabit Wi-Fi and move us closer to achieving the important national goal of delivering ubiquitous broadband to all Americans.”

Claude Aiken, president and chief executive officer of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, tweeted, “Thank you @AjitPaiFCC! Repurposing 5.9 for unlicensed use could be a shot in the arm for both #ruralbroadband and #WiFi. @WISPAnews stands ready to assist.”

“It’s great news for consumers that the Commission will soon release a notice on opening all or at least part of the still unused 5.9 GHz band for next generation Wi-Fi. Consumers will benefit twice over if the 5.9 GHz band is repurposed for Wi-Fi and vehicle safety signaling is deployed on a different, more appropriate band,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Just as Wi-Fi makes 4G far more available and affordable for all, 5G for all Americans will depend on extending the current unlicensed band at 5 GHz to create the very wide, high-capacity channels that will ensure every home and business world-class connectivity.”

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said, “It’s important to ‘do no harm’ and preserve the spectrum for critical safety technologies that connect vehicles to vehicles, to other road users, and to their environment to help reduce crashes. These are technologies holding the promise to provide numerous economic, environmental, and societal benefits, such as decreased congestion and fuel consumption, and increased access for the elderly and disabled.

“The entire 5.9 GHz band is needed to achieve the full benefit of these communication technologies in the years to come,” Mr. Newton added. “Unlicensed operations in the band should only be allowed if it’s proven that there is no harmful interference from unlicensed devices to incumbent 5.9-band technologies. Automakers’ safety innovations require dedicated spectrum to ensure they work right every time without signal interference. Millions of dollars have already been invested in this effort, including incorporating connected vehicle technologies into infrastructure.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment

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