FCC drives 5.9 GHz proposal for C-V2X, Wi-Fi use forward

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The FCC will seek comment on whether to allocate the remaining upper 10 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band to C-V2X or leave it for DSRC. (Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today voted unanimously to advance a proposal that would reallocate large portions of the 5.9 GHz band, dedicating spectrum to both unlicensed and C-V2X technologies.

For two decades, 75 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band has been designated to dedicated short range communications (DSRC), but the agency is looking to revise rules, noting progress on DSRC has been stalled for many years.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would make the lower 45 MHz (5.85-5.895 GHz) available for unlicensed use, which Chairman Ajit Pai said will “fully realize Wi-Fi’s potential.”  

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Under the NPRM, the upper 30 MHz (5.895-5.925) of the 5.9 GHz band would be kept exclusive for transportation and vehicle safety, notably with 20 MHz of that (5.905-5.925 ) dedicated specifically for newer Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X) technologies that have been championed by the likes of Qualcomm. The agency will seek comment on whether to allocate the remaining upper 10 MHz to C-V2X or leave it for DSRC.

RELATED: FCC looks to dedicate 5.9 GHz for Wi-Fi, C-V2X use

The FCC said slow traction on DSRC prompted the need for changes and that under current commission rules no spectrum is allocated for C-V2X.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was strongly in favor of the proposal and said technologies for communication between vehicles have moved beyond DSCR, noting only a few thousand vehicles have DSRC on board, compared to more than 250 million cars on the road.

Changes to the 5.9 GHz band have faced opposition from some, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, which wanted the entire 75 MHz to remain exclusive for transportation safety. Pai said the proposal balances both unlicensed wireless innovation and auto safety technology.

In terms of the lower 45 MHz, Commissioner Brendan Carr noted the 5.9 GHz portion open for Wi-Fi could be combined with similar adjacent spectrum in the 5 GHz band, together enabling the first contiguous 160 MHz channel for unlicensed devices. He also pointed to 5G and the need for more unlicensed spectrum.  

“To stimulate the services, devices, and ultimately the networks that make 5G meaningful to everyday Americans, we must have a 5G ecosystem that works everywhere Americans are,” Carr said. “5G services must work just as well at home and in the car, at a coffee shop or in a park. And that means we will need a lot of unlicensed spectrum to help power 5G devices.”

Rosenworcel noted that 70% of 5G traffic is expected to be offloaded onto Wi-Fi, and said the proposal will help development of next-generation gigabit Wi-Fi.

Wide industry support

Movement on the 5.9 GHz band is seen as a win for the Wi-Fi industry, auto-makers like Ford, and others, with many, including cable operators Charter and Comcast, applauding the move.

“The strong bipartisan support for this item speaks volumes about the importance of this proceeding. The Commission’s compromise proposal is a major step toward delivering next-generation broadband connectivity and strengthening the foundation for 5G, while clearing the path for modern automotive-safety technologies," said Tony Werner, president, TPX – Technology, Product, Xperience of Comcast Cable, in a statement.

Ford, which has been one of the biggest proponents of C-V2X over DSRC, previously touted changes to 5.9 GHz, saying: “Without this proceeding, C-V2X cannot be deployed.”

RELATED: Ford seeks OK to test C-V2X using DSRC spectrum in California, Michigan

Qualcomm has been working on C-V2X with Ford, and Dean Brenner, Qualcomm’s SVP of Spectrum Strategy & Technology Policy, also cheered the move.

“Qualcomm is very pleased that the FCC approved moving forward with the proposal to allocate the upper 20 MHz of 5.9 GHz for C-V2X, as the 5G Auto Association proposed last year,” said Brenner in a statement. “This visionary FCC proposal will enable us to bring the tremendous, unmatched safety benefits from C-V2X to U.S. drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.  We will continue to work with the FCC and all other stakeholders to get C-V2X on the air as quickly and broadly as possible.”

WifiForward in a statement called the vote “win-win” for both broadband innovation and safety communications.

“Wi-Fi already carries the majority of all internet traffic, and this NPRM helps ensure that enough spectrum is available as Wi-Fi carries even more traffic during the 5G rollout,” said WifiForward in a statement.  

The Wi-Fi Alliance said it was an important step toward addressing the growing need for unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi use, adding: “We look forward to reviewing this 5.9 GHz Band proposal in detail, and continuing to support the Commission in this and other initiatives that will deliver necessary mid-band spectrum to preserve Wi-Fi connectivity for millions of Americans.”

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a statement said that expanding unlicensed use is essential part of a robust 5G ecosystem.

“Wi-Fi already generates hundreds of billions of dollars for the U.S. economy each year as it's become the primary way that consumers and business access data on mobile devices,” said Calabrese. “High-capacity Wi-Fi is also increasingly essential to schools, libraries and other community anchor institutions.”

At its Dec. 12 open meeting, the FCC also voted unanimously to designate 988 as the three-digit number for national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, echoing the familiar 911 number that’s known for emergencies. The agency also proposed changes to the 3.1-3.55 GHz band, as what it called a first step in making spectrum in the band available for advanced commercial services, including 5G.

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