After three years of discussion, it looks like the FCC is seriously thinking about expanding spectrum that could be used for Wi-Fi into the 5.850-5.925 GHz (U-NII-4) band, which is allocated for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) operations.
FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai, Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel enthusiastically embraced the move. Comm. Pai said he has been calling for opening up the 5 GHz band for more Wi-Fi usage since 2012. He also noted the support on Capitol Hill from Sens John Thune, Bill Nelson, Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, Gary Peters, and Marco Rubio, as well Reps Bob Latta and Anna Eshoo.
In 1999 the FCC allocated 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for DSRC use by Intelligent Transportations Systems (ITS) vehicle safety and mobility applications, which is adjacent to unlicensed wireless technology allocations made in 1997 and 2003. The use of the band for vehicle safety, however, has been supplanted by other technologies in other bands.
“DSRC is intended to enable wireless communications to promote safety for both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure purposes,” wrote Comm. Ajit Pai. “But at the time of the allocation, we did not have the commercial applications or new radar technologies that can play a key role in improving highway safety and thus saving lives.”
In a joint statement, FCC Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel said that the DSRC spectrum is the best option for expanding capacity for unlicensed Wi-Fi users.
“Combining the airwaves in this band with those already available for unlicensed use nearby could mean increased capacity, reduced congestion, and higher speeds,” the Commissioners wrote.
An important component of the proceeding will be proving that Wi-Fi use of the spectrum will not cause interference to incumbent licensees, DSRC systems in particular. It establishes procedures for the submission of prototypes for testing and a test plan that will be led by the Commission, in consultation with the Department of Transportation and National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Qualcomm and Cisco are expected to showcase 5.9 GHz spectrum sharing technologies.
“Technological advances have reduced the potential for interference and enabled spectrum sharing, allowing us to explore unlicensed opportunities in this band without causing harmful interference to DSRC safety-of-life functions,” according to O’Rielly and Rosenworcel.
The Public Notice established a July 30, 2016 deadline for the submission of testing equipment and testing completed by January 15, 2017.