FCC Refreshing Record on 5.9 GHz

As promised, the FCC is seeking more input on freeing up spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use, including cable Wi-Fi. That included setting a January 2017 deadline for completing testing of spectrum sharing in the band.

In a public notice released June 1 and unanimously approved by the commissioners, the commission provided for 75 days of comments and reply comments on its efforts to work with the Department of Transportation and the automotive and communications industries on how the band can be shared with potential vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems already licensed to use the band.

Among the input the FCC is looking for is on non-interfering unlicensed prototype devices, or the devices themselves; ramifications on indoor versus outdoor use; and the timetables for deploying crash-avoidance systems.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association was pleased with the info request. “The FCC took a significant step forward today toward making sharing on the 5.9 GHz band a reality," it said in a statement. "Not only does the FCC ask the right questions about how to test both the Qualcomm and Cisco sharing proposals, but it also asks how to distinguish crash-avoidance from non-safety DSRC [applications]. NCTA is committed to finding a sharing solution that works and today’s FCC action points the country in the right direction.”

Cable operators have been pushing for more 5 GHz spectrum to fuel their Wi-Fi hotspots, the industry's primary mobile broadband play.

The FCC has an open inquiry into using the band for unlicensed, and DOT has agreed on testing the co-existence of vehicle-to-vehicle communications (intelligent transportation system [ITS] devices) and Wi-Fi.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, joined by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in January outlined a three-phase device-testing regime to potentially open up new spectrum in the 5.9-Gigahertz band for more cable Wi-Fi hotspots without interfering with automobile crash-avoidance systems. 

Unlicensed devices will have to pass all three tests before any conclusions are drawn about whether Wi-Fi and V2V can coexist.

That came in response to some Hill pressure to find a resolution and free up the spectrum. At that time, the FCC signaled it would be refreshing the record.

The goal is also clash avoidance, given that the cable and automotive industries have come together after early tensions over whether the band could be opened up to unlicensed without threatening those nascent intelligent automotive systems.

The FCC, in “close consultation” with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is also conducting a “complementary FCC-led test to combine with that DOT data for some real-world performance info on unlicensed device operation in the band."

"[T]oday’s Public Notice adopts a July 30, 2016 deadline for the submission of testing equipment and commits to complete testing by January 15, 2017," pointed out Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel in a joint statement. "Both deadlines are important. They provide much-needed certainty for the unlicensed community and car manufacturers."

"It is great news that a unanimous Commission approved the 5.9 GHz Public Notice," they said, "setting the stage for opening up this spectrum band for unlicensed use. Through a record refresh and rigorous, but timely, testing of prototypes, we expect to be able to fully protect vital DSRC safety-of-life functionality while promoting innovation and expanding the unlicensed services that American consumers seek."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.