September 16, 2015 - 4:45 pm
By Michael O'Rielly | Commissioner
Jessica Rosenworcel | Commissioner

Earlier this year, we joined together to write about making more space for Wi-Fi by exploring sharing opportunities in the 5850-5925 MHz band, or 5.9 GHz band.  More unlicensed airwaves in this band could lead to lots of good things—more wireless hotspots, less network congestion, greater speeds, and faster innovation.  So we are pleased to see that our vision for this spectrum is now a lot closer to reality thanks to the efforts of Congress and a broad group of stakeholders with interest in these airwaves. 

First, a little history for perspective.  Back in 1999, the 5.9 GHz band was set aside by the Commission for the automotive industry.  Since that time, efforts have been underway to use this spectrum to develop technology that can reduce car crashes and improve roadway safety.  This system, known as Dedicated Short Range Communications Service (DSRC), is designed to have cars “talk” in real time to one another and communicate with street lights, curbs, bicycles, and even pedestrians to reduce the number of auto accidents, including fatalities.     

We saw efforts to develop DSRC firsthand this summer, when we travelled together to Michigan to visit the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), which are the national hubs for this safety initiative.  While there, we test-drove new car safety prototypes, listened to concerns about possible Wi-Fi interference, and discussed spectrum sharing with both auto manufacturers and researchers.  We also got the chance to see Mcity, one testing ground for the driverless cars of the future.  It was a terrific visit, and we came away with a desire to work harder to resolve outstanding issues and improve opportunities for both auto safety and Wi-Fi in the 5.9 GHz band.

On this front, last week represented real progress.  Members of Congress called on the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Commerce (DOC), and FCC to explore opening up the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use.  Thanks to leadership from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Thune and Senators Rubio and Booker, the Commission now has a framework for testing in the 5.9 GHz band that will help ensure that unlicensed sharing does not cause harmful interference to incumbents, including DSRC.  This framework includes nine principles that a broad group of stakeholders—automakers, unlicensed spectrum advocates, and technology companies—have come together to support.  It also includes specific testing duties for the FCC regarding interference-avoidance and allocation of spectrum use in the 5.9 GHz band.  Moreover, this effort builds on the work of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has led to a series of talks with stakeholders and regulators to help forge a way forward and develop sharing plans.        

This progress is exciting.  But we are also impatient, and a lot of work lies ahead.  So we will press the Commission to start a proceeding to set testing parameters, evaluate results, and seek public comment on what we learn from our tests.  A fair testing process will help all interested parties—and we will work to ensure it proceeds expeditiously.  As part of this effort, we want to see that spectrum allocated for automobile safety in the 5.9 GHz band is used for just that—safety—and that more Wi-Fi is safely available for wireless access and innovation nationwide.  We think there is space in our airwaves for both—and we look forward to making it happen.