FCC Chairman Pai: Time to take a fresh look at the 5.9 GHz band

It looks as though the 5.9 GHz band is headed for a major formal review at the FCC. Chairman Ajit Pai told a Wi-Fi World Congress audience on Tuesday that he’s ready to launch a comprehensive review of the 5.9 GHz band—one that has been stuck in neutral for the past 20 years.

“I know that reasonable people may disagree about the future of the 5.9 GHz band. But that is not a reason to avoid the conversation,” he said, according to written remarks. “Most people of good faith will agree on at least this: We can’t keep kicking this can down the road… It is time to launch a comprehensive review of the future of the 5.9 GHz band, make a sober assessment of the facts, and then make a timely decision on the best way forward.”

Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O’Reilly have been part of a bipartisan effort for some time in urging the commission to review the 5.9 GHz band, which was designated for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) exactly 20 years ago. The commission at that time set aside 75 megahertz of spectrum in the band for DSRC, which was designed to allow car-to-car communications to prevent accidents, but little transpired on that score until recently.

RELATED: FCC’s Rosenworcel urges rethink on 5.9 GHz band

Now many in the auto and wireless industries are backing Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X), which would use standard cellular protocols to provide communications between vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians.

At the same time, unlicensed advocates have called for either sharing the band between unlicensed use and automotive technologies or reallocating the band entirely for unlicensed.

RELATED: FCC’s O’Rielly: 5.9 GHz band is ‘a mess’

Pai outlined several options for the FCC to consider, including allocating the 5.9 GHz band for C-V2X specifically or for automotive communications technologies generally.

It also could allow for sharing between unlicensed devices and automotive communications technologies in the lower 45 MHz of the band while reserving the upper 30 MHz exclusively for vehicle-to-vehicle technologies. Or it could split the band, with the lower 45 MHz allocated for unlicensed use and the upper 30 MHz for vehicle-to-vehicle technologies. Alternatively, it could allocate the entire 75 MHz band exclusively for unlicensed use.

Clearly, Pai hasn’t made up his mind or isn’t sharing that if he did. “Marking the right choice isn’t easy,” he said, adding that it's time to embark on a comprehensive review.

The WifiForward organization was pleased to hear of the chairman’s plan to move forward in both the 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz bands.

“Wi-Fi is used for everything from medical telemetry and connected learning, to billions of dollars in secure financial transactions and critical machine communications. As Americans depend on more and more connected devices, they will increasingly look to Wi-Fi to power these crucial services and their 5G future,” the group said in a statement.