NCTA, New America urge FCC to take ‘fresh look’ at 5.9 GHz band

NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, as well as New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), want the FCC to recognize that dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technologies have failed and instead move forward with a new conversation about what to do with the 5.9 GHz band.

To be sure, there remain automotive manufacturers that are fully behind DSRC—Toyota recently reiterated its stance—but the Department of Transportation’s recent publication (PDF) of its Automated Vehicles 3.0 report, in which it states the department will remain technology neutral, is being interpreted as a positive sign that there won’t be a DSRC mandate.

NCTA filed an ex parte urging the commission to issue a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that would essentially open up a new conversation about how to handle the 5.9 GHz band.

NCTA says the 5.9 GHz band is the best opportunity to fill the need for midband unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi. From a cable perspective, the industry is working hard to deploy gigabit broadband, and Wi-Fi is how customers experience gigabit speeds in their homes and offices.

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It’s been more than 20 years since the U.S. set aside a portion of the band for DSRC, and during that time there were high expectations that DSRC would be mandated to improve auto safety. That hasn’t happened, and in the meantime, while DSRC advocates say they’ve made great strides and large investments, NTCA argues DSRC services remain largely in the pilot phase.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute, said the 5.9 GHz band is adjacent to the most important Wi-Fi band, and taking a fresh look fits in with the 6 GHz rulemaking the FCC will consider at its Oct. 23 meeting.

He also said that if the 6 GHz is eventually opened for unlicensed use, “the 5.9 GHz band could be a road block in the middle of a potential Wi-Fi Super Highway that can help the U.S. win the race to 5G.”  

Cellular V2X seems likely to leapfrog DSRC as the most economic and ubiquitous technology, and with 5G and C-V2X on the horizon, it’s a good time for the FCC to look at other bands with better propagation and proximity to 5G networks, Calabrese said. “It no longer makes sense to put a safety-critical radio technology on that island in the 5.9 GHz band,” he said during a conference call with journalists.

In its filing, NCTA suggested that because the FCC has an open proceeding on the 5.9 GHz band in which it has specifically raised the potential for rule changes, the commission could issue an FNPRM or other appropriate vehicle that, among other things, seeks comment on whether to allocate other, more suitable spectrum for automotive communications technologies.