FCC’s Rosenworcel urges rethink on 5.9 GHz band

While the industry heads to this week’s Mobile World Congress Americas convention in Los Angeles, the Wi-Fi community is hopeful the licensed carrier community will remember that a whole lot of their traffic—on the order of 70% in many cases—is handled by Wi-Fi, which is in dire need of more spectrum.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel reiterated last week at a Silicon Flatirons Conference in Boulder, Colorado, that a lot has changed since the U.S. set aside 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC).

“Let me be clear: we need to support automobile safety,” she said in prepared comments. “However, our spectrum policies supporting safety need to be current. So we should speed the way for our thinking about DSRC to be up to date … It’s time to take a fresh look at this band and see if we can update our commitment to safety and also develop more unlicensed opportunities for Wi-Fi.”

Earlier this year, Congress asked the FCC to identify 100 megahertz of spectrum below 8 GHz for unlicensed use. To meet that threshold, “we need to take another look at the 5.9 GHz band. It’s the ideal place to explore Wi-Fi expansion because it’s adjacent to an existing unlicensed band.”

Efforts already are underway to do that, but the FCC needs to release the results of tests to determine the feasibility of DSRC and Wi-Fi sharing, and the tests need to be modernized to reflect newer solutions that would segment the band, according to Rosenworcel.

RELATED: Wi-Fi Alliance working on recommendations for 6 GHz

The 6 GHz band is also the subject of great interest on the part of the unlicensed community because it is next to the 5 GHz band but doesn’t come with the same predicament as the spectrum that was designated for DSRC. It’s ideally suited for Wi-Fi, and the chipsets and radio bands can be adjusted without significant investment. Plus, there’s sufficient bandwidth for wider channels that can support more data-intensive applications such as video and virtual reality.

Like previous versions, the latest 802.11ax standard for Wi-Fi can operate in 20 megahertz channels, but it’s optimized for wider channels to deliver the broadband connectivity consumers expect these days, according to Alex Roytblat, senior director of worldwide regulatory affairs at Wi-Fi Alliance.

He said Wi-Fi Alliance is encouraged by the efforts that have been made in both the House and the Senate, and by statements FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made indicating the 6 GHz band will be the subject of a rule-making this fall.

“I think the emphasis is on 6 right now because that’s where we see significant opportunities to allow for access to our technologies while preserving the rights of the incumbent services to continue to operate in there,” he told FierceWirelessTech, adding it’s the alliance’s intent that incumbents be protected.

As for awareness about the need for more spectrum for Wi-Fi, that’s fairly well established. The Wi-Fi Alliance has been getting the word out, and policymakers and regulators are well aware of it. “I think everyone recognizes that Wi-Fi needs more spectrum,” he said.

Even the licensed folks—many of which are represented by MWC Americas’ hosts GSMA and CTIA—can support the idea of getting more spectrum for Wi-Fi, because if that 70% of traffic were to come back to their networks, they would have a problem handling the capacity requirements, he noted.