FCC moves to authorize C-V2X in 5.9 GHz band

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Under Chairman Pai’s plan, the FCC would for the first time authorize C-V2X in the 5.9 GHz band.(Getty Images)

It’s been dubbed “a mess,” with a lot of controversial issues associated with it, but the 5.9 GHz band finally is getting a do-over, which the FCC will consider at its November 18 meeting.

The “do-over” is rather complicated, which explains in part why it’s taken so long. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai acknowledged during a WifiForward event Wednesday that it’s been a long “slog” at the FCC and there were years of debate that led up to its placement on the next agenda.

But it should make a big difference for Wi-Fi users, especially as the pandemic has proven the importance of connectivity, and do so fairly quickly.

The 5.9 GHz band already has made a significant difference for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs). The FCC granted special temporary authority (STA) to WISPs to use the 5.9 GHz spectrum early in the pandemic to help meet their customers’ needs. “The results are just incredible,” Pai said. WISPs saw huge increases in their traffic and were able to handle it with the use of the unlicensed 5.9 GHz band.  

It’s not just about Wi-Fi, however. Under Pai’s plan, the FCC would for the first time authorize C-V2X in the 5.9 GHz band. That’s a big deal – for more than 20 years, 75 megahertz of 5.9 GHz spectrum was set aside for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), which essentially went nowhere.

Pai said DSRC hasn’t done the job, certainly not as it was envisioned. “We think C-V2X will do the job and will help save lives,” he said.

Specifically, the commission at its next meeting will consider plans to adopt rules to repurpose 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.850-5.895 GHz band for unlicensed operations, retain 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band for the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) service, and require the transition of the ITS radio service standard from DSRC technology to Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology.

RELATED: FCC’s O’Rielly: 5.9 GHz band is ‘a mess’

In a draft of the order released Wednesday, the FCC concludes that, to promote the most efficient and effective use of the spectrum that will continue to be designated for transportation safety, “only a single technology is appropriate, and we will require use of C-V2X technology. Pending resolution of the transition of ITS operations to C-V2X, ITS licensees will be able to continue their DSRC-based operations or, alternatively, request to begin C-V2X-based operations through our existing regulatory processes (e.g., STA, experimental licensing, and/or waiver), as appropriate.”

Some states, like Colorado, deployed both DSRC and C-V2X, with the idea being they would be ready to support whatever technology the market ends up going with.

During the WifiForward event, Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said for the auto industry, this isn’t about safety. “This is about money,” he said.

It’s about using free spectrum to provide commercial applications that feed off the private information they get out of the cars, he added. “They get very offended when you point this out to them, but the fact is that we and other consumer groups” have pressed the auto industry to accept a non-commercial condition, and “they never will.”

Collision avoidance services do not take a lot of bandwidth; what takes up bandwidth are things like personalized advertising while driving past a restaurant and infotainment that have nothing to do with safety, he said.  

RELATED: Qualcomm supplies C-V2X tech for deployment in Hawaii

Qualcomm has been a big supporter of C-V2X for a long time, and while it was pleased to see things move forward, it’s not happening fast enough.

“We appreciate that the FCC plans to move forward to assign the upper 30 MHz to C-V2X, a state-of-the-art wireless safety technology which will greatly improve roadway safety,” said Qualcomm Technologies’ Dean Brenner, senior vice president of spectrum strategy and technology, in a statement. “We’re very disappointed, however, that the FCC will not make the assignment effective immediately—delaying availability of this important new safety technology that automakers are ready to deploy in millions of cars, and road operators are ready to deploy roadway infrastructure units.”

Qualcomm also is concerned about the potential for harmful interference from unlicensed operations, whether indoors or outdoors. “We continue to believe that the FCC should give C-V2X access to this spectrum immediately so that American consumers can reap the safety benefits of this new technology as soon as possible, without delay, and so that the U.S. can keep pace with other countries, where this technology is being deployed. We look forward to reviewing the draft FCC order and continuing to participate in the FCC’s proceedings.”