WifiForward: ‘Our 5G future depends on Wi-Fi’

Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) President and CEO Shailen Bhatt told lawmakers (PDF) during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday that 5G has the potential to deliver a transportation system that is safer and more inclusive, but it was what he didn’t say that raised the ire of the WifiForward group.

“Our 5G future depends on Wi-Fi, for cellular traffic offload, to handle our devices and experiences indoors, to deliver ultrafast networks to expensive to serve rural areas and to support the kind of capacity our economy increasingly demands. That's why the FCC is considering unleashing spectrum in 5.9 GHz and beyond for unlicensed use and they've been backed up by experts from industry and both sides of the aisle,” a WifiForward spokesperson said in a statement to FierceWirelessTech.

“ITS Americas is requesting Congress keep the 5.9 GHz band ‘for transportation safety applications’ without noting that the 5.9 GHz band has gone unused for 20 years and right now, nothing can operate in this band of spectrum but DSRC, a technology that is not yet commercially available,” the spokesperson added. “To do anything else in the band would require a new look at this spectrum. As the expert agency, the FCC is currently spending a lot of time determining how to get this spectrum put to work to generate value for Americans and has an open proceeding to do that.”

WifiForward is an ad-hoc, broad-based group of companies and organizations working to alleviate the Wi-Fi spectrum crunch; its backers include Google, Comcast, Charter Communications, Boingo Wireless, Arris, WISPA and Microsoft.

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ITS America originally petitioned the FCC to create DSRC, but the 5.9 GHz band has been largely in limbo since the government designated it for DSRC two decades ago. Some carmakers, like Toyota, are still very much committed to seeing it through with DSRC, but others, like Ford, see Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) as being a better alternative.

The FCC was charged with conducting tests to evaluate potential sharing solutions between unlicensed devices and DSRC to see if sharing the band would be possible, and last year it announced the results of Phase 1 testing. Basically, the FCC found that prototype devices reliably detected DSRC signals; its report was coordinated with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Transportation.

However, recognizing that a number of developments occurred since the FCC’s three-phase test plan was announced in 2016, the FCC kicked off a comment period asking for feedback about how it should proceed with the 5.9 band. Specifically, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology cited the introduction of new technologies for autonomous vehicles, the evolution of Wi-Fi standards, the development of C-V2X technology and the limited deployment of DSRC in discrete circumstances as factors that could impact how it moves forward with the 5.9 GHz band.  

Engine, a nonprofit technology policy, research and advocacy, recently submitted comments (PDF) to the FCC urging it to move on to next steps to open up spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band, which it says is uniquely suited to boost the availability of unlicensed airwaves for Wi-Fi. The band is adjacent to the U-NII-3 band, which already supports Wi-Fi networks, and it sits next to the 6 GHz band, which the FCC has taken steps toward making available for unlicensed use.

“Opening up the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use could make available enough spectrum for several of the contiguous 160-megahertz channels needed to distribute Gigabit capacity over Wi-Fi,” Engine told the commission. “Another benefit of its proximity to the existing 1 U-NII-3 band is the relative ease with which Internet users could start accessing those Wi-Fi networks using equipment that is already on the market. That means the U.S. could see better, faster Internet access over Wi-Fi networks sooner.”