ICYMI: OTI’s “The Road to Gigabit Wi-Fi: Can We Share the 5.9 GHz ‘Car Band’?”

Q: What do FCC Commissioners, the car industry, chip manufacturers, public interest groups and WifiForward all have in common?

A: An interest in further exploring sharing in the 5.9 GHz band that will lead to more unlicensed spectrum!

On Tuesday, New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) brought together FCC Commissioners, chip manufacturers, public interest groups, WifiForward and tech enthusiasts for a conversation on spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz ‘car band.’

The event opened with keynote presentations from FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mike O’Rielly. As long-time advocates of Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum, both Commissioners were enthusiastic about the prospects of spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band, especially to increase the amount of spectrum available for innovations like Gigabit-speed Wi-Fi.

Commissioner Rosenworcel even provided the FCC a roadmap for making spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band a reality:

  1. The FCC must immediately refresh the 5.9 GHz record, which has not been updated since 2013;
  2. The FCC must begin lab testing of unlicensed device prototypes in the 5.9 GHz band. Interested parties should have an opportunity to provide comments; and
  3. Testing of unlicensed device prototypes in 5.9 GHz must move from the lab to the field. In order to accomplish this, the FCC will need to work with the Department of Transportation to test DSRC technology in vehicles and real world scenarios.

O’Rielly agreed with Rosenworcel and called on the FCC to create a formalized process this year. With unlicensed spectrum usage — which includes Wi-Fi — continuing to grow, there is no time to waste.

By opening up the 5.9 GHz band, the FCC has the opportunity to better meet demand for wireless connectivity. Expansion into the 5.9 GHz band complements unlicensed usage in adjacent bands, creating wider channels. The benefits of wider channels are improved hotspot coverage, longer battery useage, the ability to connect more devices and faster speeds, a la Wi-Fi’s latest standard, 802.11ac.

Following the Commissioners, OTI’s Michael Calabrese detailed the findings of his newest report on spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band. Calabrese highlighted the importance of more unlicensed spectrum and wider channels for the future of gigabit Wi-Fi and laid out his argument on the spectrum sharing potential of the 5.9 GHz band.

Fifteen years ago, the auto industry was allocated this spectrum with the goal of developing technology to enhance safety, known as, Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC). And, yet, the band has and continues to lay fallow. Additionally, new technologies have been created to prevent auto accidents and do so far better.

In his report, Calabrese encourages the FCC to allow for dual use of this band for both vehicle-to-vehicle technologies and Wi-Fi. Two proposals have been introduced to make this happen and New America’s OTI recommends that the FCC develop and release a Public Notice during the first quarter of 2016 proposing a process and timeline to test both approaches. To read the full report, click here.

Closing out the event was a panel discussion on the details of the two proposals circulating for how to share this spectrum:

  • Qualcomm’s proposal gives the auto industry exclusive rights to the upper 30 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band and leaves the lower segment for unlicensed used.
  • Cisco’s proposal creates a “listen, detect and avoid” protocol that gives unlicensed use to available channels only when they are not being used by the auto industry’s DSRC technology.

Panelists included:

  • Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Program at New America
  • Blair Anderson, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Dean Brenner, Senior Vice President — Government Affairs, Qualcomm Inc.
  • Mary Brown, Senior Director — Government Affairs, Cisco
  • Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge
  • William Maguire, Executive Director, WifiForward’s Save Our Wi-Fi campaign

Want to learn more? Here are some helpful links:

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