Sharing in 5.9 GHz band gets renewed focus, but automakers still hitched to DSRC

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Toyota's plan to deploy DSRC systems prompted Commissioners Rosenworcel and O'Rielly to remind Toyota that they're fully exploring sharing techniques in the 5.9 GHz band. (Pixabay)

The Wi-Fi community is encouraged by efforts at the FCC to free up more unlicensed spectrum by re-examining the 5.9 GHz band, but the auto industry remains divided over the use of Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) and C-V2X.

FCC Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel sent a letter to Toyota on Thursday noting Toyota’s announcement last month that it would be deploying DSRC in Toyota and Lexus vehicles sold in the U.S. starting with the 2021 product line. Toyota’s technology will use the 5.850-5.925 GHz band allocated for Intelligent Transportation Systems.

Asked about the 5.9 GHz band during a press conference after the commission’s open meeting on Thursday, Rosenworcel said they were supposed to receive testing results from the Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce and the FCC regarding how the U.S. could simultaneously accommodate unlicensed and auto safety use in this spectrum. But those test results were never presented when they were due in January 2017.

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“I think those [test] results need to be made public as soon as possible so those who are Wi-Fi enthusiasts and those who want to use this for DSRC can take a look and figure out where we go from here,” she said.

Rosenworcel and O’Rielly have been particularly outspoken about the 5.9 GHz band and making more spectrum available for Wi-Fi. Back in February 2015, the two penned a blog saying they support safety initiatives associated with DSRC but feel it’s time to develop a compromise that allows both unlicensed and DSRC use in the U-NII-4 band. 

In their May 10, 2018, letter to Toyota CEO James Lentz, the two commissioners said it’s refreshing to learn, after nearly two decades since the commission allocated spectrum for DSRC, that it may move out of the conceptual and testing phases and onto the road.

However, they reminded the CEO that the DOT, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and associated automotive and communications industries are evaluating the potential for future unlicensed operations in the spectrum.

“We are committed to finding the best method to deploy advanced automotive safety-of-life applications while working to meet existing and future demands for unlicensed spectrum,” they wrote. “That includes exploring fully all the sharing techniques in our current proceeding, including those that would re-channelize the 5.9 GHz band. It also includes examining potential opportunities to advance automotive safety using newer technology, such as C-V2X systems. By taking a modern look at the possibilities for wireless services in the 5.9 GHz band, we can support automobile safety, increase spectrum for Wi-Fi, and grow the wireless economy.”

WifiFoward, an ad hoc group working to alleviate the Wi-Fi spectrum crunch by finding more unlicensed spectrum, issued a statement saying it agrees with Commissioners O'Rielly and Rosenworcel that the FCC can achieve a win-win solution for auto safety, Wi-Fi, and the wireless economy. 

“Now is the perfect time for the Commission to take a fresh look at the rules for the 5.9 GHz band,” WifiForward said in a statement. “The original allocation is nearly 20 years old, and the technology landscape has changed. Adjacent bands are now home to billions of innovative unlicensed devices, and a variety of vehicle safety technologies have overtaken DSRC. We applaud the Commissioners for their continued leadership.”

Toyota and General Motors have dug their heels into the DSRC path, but Ford, BMW and other automakers are pressing the Trump administration to allow them to leapfrog that system by fast-tracking 5G cellular broadband in automobiles, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

RELATED: Qualcomm, Ford go big with plans to deploy C-V2X in Ford vehicles starting in 2018

There was a time in the U.S. when GM and Ford were attached to DSRC, but Ford made a strong turn in the past year and is backing C-V2X.

Meanwhile, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, Ford and Qualcomm announced they would be doing C-V2X field trials this year, and they’re making a point of being far more active this year in lobbying for the cellular technology.

Representatives of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) visited commissioner offices last month to demonstrate C-V2X and provide an overview. A number of 5GAA members have begun joint testing of C-V2X to demonstrate the safety benefits, and the 5GAA itself has grown to more than 80 members, an increase in membership of more than a dozen companies since January of this year. 3GPP recently standardized C-V2X in Release 14, although there is more work to be done in the standards for 5G.