FCC to Take Major Strides in Testing Spectrum Sharing

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

By Lydia Beyoud

Jan. 12 — Three agencies leading the way on spectrum sharing informed the Senate Commerce Committee that the FCC has begun its own testing in the 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) band, according to letters obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

The Department of Transportation, Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration said a three-phase testing plan was underway, with the FCC in the lead. At issue is spectrum allocated to automakers for vehicular safety technology—spectrum that would be shared with unlicensed technologies such as Wi-Fi.

An FCC spokeswoman confirmed a letter was sent Dec. 18 to Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), as well as to Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). A similar letter was sent to committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and fellow Democrats Gary Peters (Mich.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) on Jan. 11.

The agencies said it was imperative for the FCC to conclude all three phases before reaching any conclusions on whether unlicensed devices can safely share the 5.9 GHz band with the auto industry's proprietary dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology “to ensure the future automotive safety and efficiency of the traveling public.”

Spectrum Allocated in 1999

The auto industry was allocated spectrum in that band in 1999 for the purposes of implementing technology—before the era of Wi-Fi—to avoid traffic collisions and other safety applications. The industry has been reticent to embark on any path to share that spectrum with other users, though the Senate Commerce Committee was able to make headway with industry groups in 2015 in the form of a landmark agreement to explore spectrum-sharing technologies.

Since then, mobile applications and other technologies dependent on unlicensed spectrum have flourished in the marketplace, leading technology companies and public interest groups to advocate for sharing of spectrum, one of the nation's scarce resources.

The 5.9 GHz band is viewed as particularly desirable new territory for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies because of its adjacency to the so-called U-NII-3 band of spectrum, 5725 megahertz (MHz) to 5825 MHz, where the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard currently operates. Expanding into the higher bands of 5.9 GHz spectrum and harmonizing the rules for unlicensed uses across a new swath of spectrum would result in significantly higher throughput speeds and greater spectral efficiency, according to a Jan. 12 report released by the New America Foundation Open Technology Institute (OTI).

At a Jan. 12 event hosted by the institute, two FCC commissioners threw their support behind the FCC taking the lead on spectrum-sharing testing. Democrat Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for testing to be concluded by the end of 2016. Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said that the primary purpose of DSRC technology to support safety-of-life applications in connected vehicles and infrastructure was deserving of protection from potential interference by unlicensed users.

However, he underscored that other, more commercial, contemplated uses of the spectrum, such as to display ads, enable social media or to help drivers find parking spots, were less deserving of interference protection.

“There should be little doubt that exploring the ability to allow other uses, such as Wi-Fi, in the 5.9 GHz band, via sharing or partitioning, is the right thing to do. Even the auto industry seems to have come around to this thinking,” O'Rielly said.

NHTSA Speeding Up V2V Rulemaking

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is taking the position that unlicensed and DSRC technologies operating in the 5.9 GHz band can be complementary, rather than at odds, for the purpose of reducing vehicular deaths and injuries, NHTSA Deputy Administrator Blair Anderson said at the same event.

“We as a department feel very strongly about this technology,” he said of DSRC, “but we're open to the efficient use of it.”

Anderson announced that NHTSA sent a draft notice of proposed rulemaking to require vehicle-to-vehicle equipment on all new cars and light trucks to the Office of Management and Budget Jan. 11 .

“We're moving it through the review process because this administration's very keen to accelerate the innovation that can take place in that arena,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine in Washington at kperine@bna.com