It looks as though FCC commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel are not interested in letting the automobile industry indefinitely hold onto spectrum set aside for roadway safety.
The two commissioners set forth their case for shared use of the U-NII-4 band, which was allocated by the commission in 1999 for dedicated short range communications service (DSRC) systems intended to improve roadway safety. Both O'Rielly, a Republican, and Rosenworcel, a Democrat, say there are possibilities for greater unlicensed use in the 5850 to 5925 MHz band, also known as the U-NII-4 band, while still permitting and protecting DSRC.
In light of the proximity to spectrum in other parts of the 5 GHz band that are already used for unlicensed services, the upper 5 GHz band is a prime candidate to help meet the demand for Wi-Fi, according to the commissioners. The 75 megahertz of spectrum located at 5850 to 5925 MHz was allocated for DSRC systems. DSRC was intended to enable short range, wireless links to transfer information between vehicles and roadside systems, the commissioners noted in their blog post.
At the time of allocation, DSRC was expected to be used for a variety of purposes, including "traffic light control, traffic monitoring, travelers' alerts, automatic toll collection, traffic congestion detection, emergency vehicle signal preemption of traffic lights, and electronic inspection of moving trucks through data transmissions with roadside inspection facilities."
The commissioners advocate for exploring whether or not unlicensed services could operate in the U-NII-4 band without causing harmful interference to DSRC. Alternatively, a number of parties have suggested dedicating the upper portion of the U-NII-4 band for DSRC and allowing the lower portion to be dedicated to a mix of Wi-Fi and non-critical DSRC uses. "Under either scenario, there could be exciting new possibilities for more high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band," the commissioners said.
Meanwhile, Congress is moving to get some new Wi-Fi rules on the books. U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently reintroduced S. 424, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, which is designed to expand unlicensed spectrum use by requiring the FCC to test the feasibility of opening the upper 5 GHz band to unlicensed use. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and cosponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.).
But the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Association of Global Automakers, AAA, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and others are opposing the act, saying it would open up previously dedicated auto safety spectrum to unlicensed Wi-Fi users and jeopardize the implementation of a safety critical crash avoidance system.
While O'Rielly and Rosenworcel say they recognize that proponents of DSRC are reluctant to support efforts that might jeopardize their exclusive use of valuable spectrum, they note it's been a decade and a half since the allocation was made and it's time to take a "modern look" at the service possibilities for these airwaves. "In other words, it is time for the Commission to develop a compromise that allows both unlicensed and DSRC use in the U-NII-4 band," they said.
"We support the safety initiatives associated with DSRC, but are mindful that mobile opportunities are multiplying in ways never contemplated when this spectrum was set aside in 1999" they said. "After all, when DSRC was new, driverless cars were the stuff of science fiction. Additionally, new technologies are coming to market that support features like automatic braking and lane change warnings that use radar and other technologies not dependent on DSRC. Above all, we should not strand our spectrum strategies in turn-of-the-millennium safety technologies when there are may be other more efficient ways to reach these same goals."
- see the FCC blog
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