FCC Public Notice Prepares Way for Sharing 5.9 GHz Band

By Lydia Beyoud

June 1 — The Federal Communications Commission took a major step June 1 in launching an effort to prove that spectrum sharing between car manufacturers and Wi-Fi in the 5.9 gigahertz band is feasible.

The agency released a public notice (ET Docket No. 13-49), or PN, to refresh its public record on how unlicensed spectrum users can safely coexist without causing interference to automobiles that include a proprietary technology intended to prevent collisions.

The FCC allocated spectrum to the automotive industry more than 15 years ago and proponents of using the spectrum for unlicensed uses, including Wi-Fi, complain that companies like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. have failed to adequately use the band at a time when spectrum is in increasing demand. While connected cars that use unlicensed spectrum for crash avoidance are already on the road, vehicles incorporating the transportation industry's Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology still aren't on the market, though GM forecasts they will roll off the assembly line this year (See previous story, 09/09/15).

Meanwhile, spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band is particularly attractive to the cable industry and other unlicensed spectrum users because it is adjacent to the 5.8 GHz band where Wi-Fi is already deployed. Adding the band for Wi-Fi use could enable the cable industry to achieve gigabit speeds, proponents said.

“This is an effort worth pursuing—and today’s action is the appropriate and necessary next step,” FCC Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel said in a joint, bipartisan statement.

“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,” the two commissioners said.

The FCC is increasingly examining ways to share spectrum among licensed and unlicensed users. Achieving spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band would further support new, more efficient spectrum management methods and enable more efficient use of this scarce resource.

The item was unanimously approved by the commission on May 25.

Prototype Testing

The PN seeks comment on the current status of DSRC development, its anticipated uses and spectrum needs, how to define safety-of-life applications to be used for crash avoidance and the treatment of non-safety-of-life functions. The PN also includes procedures to submit prototypes for unlicensed, interference-avoiding devices to be tested jointly by the Department of Transportation, the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Cisco Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. are the only companies to have so far submitted spectrum sharing proposals to the FCC. The automotive industry has backed Cisco's plan, while the cable industry and unlicensed spectrum proponents back Qualcomm. Companies must submit equipment for testing by July 30. The FCC will commit to completing testing by Jan. 15, 2017.

The automobile and Wi-Fi industries' dispute over whether the spectrum can and should be shared has boiled to the surface in recent weeks, with competing letters to the White House on whether the Obama administration should move faster on sharing criteria (See previous story, 05/06/16).

Cable Industry Pleased

The cable industry's National Cable and Telecommunications Association and other supporters of unlicensed use of the band hailed the PN's release.

“NCTA is committed to finding a sharing solution that works and today’s FCC action points the country in the right direction,” the trade group said in a statement.

“Only a portion of the band is needed for time-critical auto safety signaling,” the Open Technology Institute's Michael Calabrese said in a May 26 statement after the FCC first acknowledged commissioners had voted on the item. “We are confident that reorganizing the band is the most effective way to facilitate both real-time auto safety applications and faster and more affordable wireless broadband access for millions of Americans,” said Calabrese, director of OTI's Wireless Future Project.

Automotive industry representatives did not respond in time for publication.

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 at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the public notice is at http://src.bna.com/fvL.

Text of O'Rielly and Rosenworcel's joint statement is at http://src.bna.com/fvJ.