Some Spectrum Gets All the Attention

self driving car

The 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) band looks to be the cool kid in the spectrum school. Car makers and a raft of tech and public interest groups are all jockeying to hang out in its wavelengths.

A pair of recent letters to the White House—one from Wi-Fi proponents and the other from automotive companies and first responders—highlights the ongoing fight over the best use of the band as well as the innate agita of spectrum sharing: the prospect of interference.

Both groups say they’re willing to share. But only on their terms.

In its April 28 letter, a coalition of Wi-Fi, tech and consumer groups (who admit they “do not often agree on policy matters”) asked President Barack Obama to openly call for the band to be shared with unlicensed users, because car makers still haven’t deployed proprietary vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology in the band, more than 15 years after they got exclusive access to it.

“A win-win outcome for consumers is clearly possible here if the White House forces DOT to work with FCC to share the band for both safety and broadband,” Michael Calabrese, of the New America Foundation, told Bloomberg BNA.

The automotive industry and first responders struck back with their own letter May 4, saying any mandate requiring spectrum sharing in the band now would delay their technology’s life-saving benefits and waste billions of dollars of investment.

Further, their technology is on the cusp of broad deployment, they said. “DSRC systems have moved from the test bed to the roadside, into vehicles and, based on recently-completed work, smartphones used by pedestrians,” the automotive and other groups said.

While industry groups don’t seem to be trying to keep a wraps on their frenemies status, the Department of Transportation and Federal Communications Commission are presenting a more collegial picture of their efforts to work out the issue. “We continue to work with our partners at NTIA and DoT as we move forward” on how to open up the band for more users, an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg BNA.

The FCC took another step in that effort last month, when it circulated a public notice to the commissioners to not only refresh the agency’s record on spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band, but also request technology prototypes and test plan proposals to answer technical questions about how the different technologies can work in the same band without interfering with each other. The public notice has yet to be voted on, the spokesman confirmed.