Michigan lawmaker keeps watchful eye on 5.9 GHz band

A House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday focused much of its attention on the C-Band and how to allocate spectrum for 5G while protecting incumbents, but the 5.9 GHz band also wound its way into the discussions.

The hearing was titled “Our Wireless Future: Building A Comprehensive Approach to Spectrum Policy” and it covered a range of spectrum bands, including 24 GHz and some of the conflicts that have surfaced there. But Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan who described herself as a “car girl,” wanted to talk about the 5.9 GHz band.

“I’m probably the one person in this room really paying attention on the 5.9 GHz spectrum band,” said Dingell, a former General Motors executive.   

Dingell said she heard the FCC plans a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to take a “fresh look” at the 5.9 GHz band that includes the potential for allowing non-auto safety technologies to use it. That’s happening just as the Department of Transportation (DoT) is about to begin Phase 2 and 3 of interference testing to see if additional technologies can harmoniously exist in the spectrum.

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Asked about the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) deployments that were originally planned for the band when spectrum was set aside for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) two decades ago, FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Julius Knapp said the hopes that “we all had” for the technology haven’t blossomed to the point they were envisioned at that time.

The FCC has been working with the DoT and National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) on next steps as C-V2X, the cellular-based alternative, has emerged in recent years as a promising technology that would pretty much accomplish the same road safety goals as DSRC.   

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

Knapp underscored that any decisions about the future of the band will be for the FCC chairman and commissioners to decide.

“I don’t think we’re at a point of saying whether it should be DSRC or C-V2X,” he said. “The issue that we’re grappling with is it’s been a long time, there’s a lot of things that have been happening,” and there are questions about what to do to foster better use of the spectrum.

Dingell asked how the FCC will make sure there’s no interference and that vehicles equipped with different V2X technologies will be able to talk to each other. Knapp acknowledged that’s a key point in working with the DoT

“What do we do, do we leave it open for all technologies and what if they can’t talk to each other. Is it partitioned in some way?,” Knapp responded. “We absolutely are talking through it.”

The FCC is committed to seeing the testing program through, and if there is a rulemaking proceeding, “we’ll see where that all goes,” he said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was expected to put the 5.9 GHz band NPRM proposal on the June agenda, but was personally asked by DoT Secretary Elaine Chao for additional time. It wasn't on the July or August agendas, so it’s unclear when it will be considered.