FCC poised to open up more of 5 GHz band for unlicensed wireless use

The FCC is poised to open more of the 5 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, though the exact rules for doing so are not yet finalized.

The FCC, in announcing its tentative agenda for its March 31 meeting, said it will consider a First Report and Order that would revise rules to make 100 MHz of the 5 GHz UNII-1 band unlicensed spectrum "more useful for consumers and businesses, and reduce the potential for harmful interference to certain incumbent operations." At issue is the 5150-5250 MHz portion of the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) band, whose unlicensed use is currently restricted to lower wattage and indoor operations.

In an interesting bit of timing, the announcement of the agenda came days after FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel used a speech in Washington to argue that the FCC should seize a near-term opportunity to use more of the 5 GHz band for unlicensed wireless use.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday for the WiFiForward coalition, Rosenworcel, one of three Democrats on the five-member FCC, extolled the virtues of unlicensed wireless. The WiFiForward coalition launched last month and is calling for policymakers to open up more unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi and other uses, contending that Wi-Fi in general is at risk due to a deluge of wireless data traffic that is causing increasing spectrum congestion. Members of the new coalition include the Arris Group, Best Buy, Comcast, the Consumer Electronics Association, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Time Warner Cable, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and others.

Rosenworcel said she thinks the FCC has "a terrific near-term opportunity in the 5 GHz band." After prodding from Congress and in conjunction with the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, the FCC has explored wider use of Wi-Fi in the 5.35-5.47 GHz and 5.85-5.925 GHz bands. However, the FCC has also looked at expanding Wi-Fi in the lower portion of the 5 GHz band, namely 5.15-5.25 GHz, using the 802.11ac standard. 

Rosenworcel noted that in July 2013 the Department of Defense said the Pentagon does not need access to the 5.15-5.25 GHz band for telemetry, and acknowledged it could be made available for Wi-Fi use.

"We should seize this opportunity right now," she said. "We can take the flexible Wi-Fi rules that have already been the script for an unlicensed success story in the 5.725-5.825 GHz band and expand them to the 5.15-5.25 GHz band.  If we do, we could effectively double unlicensed bandwidth in the 5 GHz band overnight. That will mean more unlicensed service--and less congestion on licensed wireless networks." She called it a "win-win."

Globalstar has said it wants to work with proponents of opening up the 5.1 GHz band for use by high-power, outdoor Wi-Fi equipment but only if those changes do not negatively impact Globalstar's mobile satellite services (MSS) business, a company executive said.

"We want to find a solution, but we didn't spend seven years and $1 billion dollars to launch a constellation of satellites just to turn around and hand over half or all of our capacity to other commercial interests," L. Barbee Ponder, Globalstar's general counsel and vice president of regulatory affairs, told FierceWirelessTech in January.

Globalstar uses the UNII spectrum for four licensed MSS feeder links serving its duplex voice service.

Ponder noted at the time that Globalstar has common ground with those who contend the 2.4 GHz band is being exhausted by Wi-Fi traffic in many urban areas. In fact, that situation has led Globalstar to propose initiating a terrestrial low power service (TLPS) over its 11.5 MHz of previously licensed S-band spectrum at 2483.5-2495 MHz, as well as the adjacent 10.5 MHz of unlicensed spectrum at 2473-2483.5 MHz.

Also at the March 31 meeting the FCC "will consider a Report and Order that would adopt allocation, licensing, service, and technical rules to make available for auction 65 MHz of AWS-3 spectrum for flexible use services, including mobile broadband."

For more:
- see this Re/code article
- see this The Hill article

Related Articles:
FCC's Rosenworcel looks to 5 GHz band, 600 MHz guard bands for unlicensed wireless
WiFiForward adds ballast to demand for unlicensed spectrum
Globalstar open to outdoor Wi-Fi 5.1 GHz if its operations can be protected
Early 802.11ac speeds are not quite 'gigabit Wi-Fi'
Qualcomm: Service providers demanding 802.11ac in new Wi-Fi gateways
Report recommends more 5 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi