FCC Will Reconsider Opening the 5.9 GHz Band for Wi-Fi & Connected Cars

FCC Will Reconsider Opening the 5.9 GHz Band for Wi-Fi & Connected Cars

Author: Eric Walz   

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to vote next month on launching a new review of a key band of the 5.9 Ghz spectrum that has been reserved for automakers that could boost Wi-Fi use, a person briefed on the matter said to Reuters on Tuesday.

According to the FCC, the increase in spectrum will allow automakers to improve advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), including blind spot detection, lane departure warning systems, pedestrian detection, and automatic braking systems.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Wi-Fi World Congress on Tuesday that "the time has come for the FCC to take a fresh look at this band" that has gone largely unused.

"This valuable mid-band spectrum is largely lying fallow, and it has been so for two decades now, just as the internet has gone from dial-up modems to gigabit Wi-Fi," Pai said.

"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."

In 1999, the FCC reserved 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for automakers to develop technology to allow vehicles to communicate with each other called Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) that could eliminate hundreds of thousands of annual car crashes.

Vehicle to Vehicle Communication Without Using Cellular Networks

DSRC enables vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications – collectively known as vehicle-to-everything or V2X technology. Unlike 4 or 5G communications, the technology does not require a cellular or data network and vehicles equipped with DSRC do not incur any cellular network carrier charges.

DSRC currently uses 7 channels of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band allocated by the FCC for "Intelligent Transportation Systems."

The short-range communications technology was once viewed as promising for the automotive industry, but automakers have been slow to adopt it.

DSRC transmissions broadcast precise vehicle information up to 10 times per second, including location, speed and acceleration.

Support from Cable Companies

According to Reuters, the Internet & Television Association ( NCTA), a trade group representing major cable and content companies such as Comcast and CBS, has urged the FCC to open the spectrum band to Wifi use, saying it is "too valuable to our country's economic future to allow it to go unused any longer."

Cable companies are working hard to rollout gigabit broadband, and Wi-Fi is how customers experience gigabit speeds in their homes and offices.

A person briefed on the plan said Pai plans to unveil the proposed rulemaking for an initial vote in June. The proposal will ask a series of questions and will not make any determinations.

"We'll need to consider what the future of automotive safety technology is likely to look like and the spectrum needs of such technologies, including whether they will require specifically dedicated airwaves," Pai said Tuesday.

Toyota Abandoning DSRC Technology

Automakers have been divided in the United States over whether to proceed with the DSRC system or use a 4G or 5G cellular-based systems.

Last month, the Toyota Motor Corp said it was abandoning plans to install DSRC technology in its vehicles for the U.S market. Toyota was the first automaker to sell and commercialize vehicles equipped with DSRC back in 2015.

Toyota said it will focus instead on 5G communications. In a letter last month to the FCC the automaker wrote,  "unfortunately we have not seen significant production commitments from other automakers."

In December 2016, the U.S. Transportation Department proposed to mandate DSRC in all new vehicles, but the Trump administration has not acted on the proposal.

Ford Motor Co said in January it planned to deploy an alternative cellular vehicle-to-everything technology,  or C-V2X , in all new U.S. vehicle models beginning in 2022. C-V2X  is designed to support direct communications, and offers high throughput and low latency for autonomous driving systems.

Pai cited a November study from Rand that said opening that spectrum band could add between $60 billion and $105 billion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in October said it was crucial to auto safety to preserve the spectrum band and noted there "are more than 70 active deployments of (vehicle to infrastructure) communications with thousands of vehicles already on the road."

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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