5.9 GHz fight shifts to court challenge

car gear
The lawsuit seeks to reverse the FCC’s reallocation of 60% of the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed, non-transportation uses. (Pixabay)

The 5.9 GHz band has been in the FCC’s crosshairs for years, and last fall, the agency decided to follow through with plans to allocate a portion of the band to Wi-Fi. After all, the band has laid fallow for much of the past two decades even though it was allocated for road safety.

But transportation officials have fought the plan all along, and this week, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) filed a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking to reverse the FCC's reallocation of 60% of the 5.9 GHz band. They want to see the full 75 megahertz preserved for transportation. 

“Keeping people safe is the top priority for every state DOT,” said AASHTO Executive Director Jim Tymon in a statement. “We believe the FCC ruling has undermined state DOTs’ ability to utilize the 5.9 GHz safety frequency as it was intended to be used.” 

RELATED: FCC votes to open 5.9 GHz for Wi-Fi, C-V2X

The band was designated for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) more than 20 years ago, when the commission set aside 75 megahertz of spectrum in the band for DSRC to improve traffic safety. Last year, the FCC decided to make 45 megahertz available for indoor, unlicensed operations, with the remaining part designated for auto safety, specifically Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology.

Wireless industry stakeholders, including the WifiForward, defended the FCC. WifiForward represents Comcast, Charter Communications, Google, Microsoft, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) and more.  

“The FCC’s action ensures much-needed Wi‑Fi capacity for consumers while also promoting the development of new connected car technologies. The FCC acted well within its authority to oversee U.S. airwaves, spent years thoroughly vetting and analyzing its rules and ultimately reached a unanimous, win-win decision that helps close the digital divide and ensure road safety,” WifiForward stated. “Both auto safety technology and broadband have progressed greatly since this spectrum was gifted to the auto industry twenty years ago – without significant development – and the FCC’s rules reflect today’s needs."

Separately, Qualcomm on Wednesday submitted comments to the FCC applauding its decision to allocate 30 MHz of 5.9 GHz spectrum to C-V2X but expressed concerns about out-of-band emissions (OOBE) from unlicensed devices that could affect C-V2X services.

The chip maker, a pioneer in C-V2X technology, argued that the agency shouldn’t permit certain unlicensed OOBE at the levels proposed because they will cause harmful interference and impact the safety performance of C-V2X. Qualcomm also wants the FCC to allocate 40 MHz of additional mid-band spectrum for 5G-based C-V2X services and applications.