Repurposing the 5.9 GHz Band for Automotive Safety & Innovation

By: Katie McAuliffe and Bethany Patterson

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be voting to repurpose the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for both unlicensed and vehicular safety use. The proposal would reallocate the lower 45 megahertz for unlicensed use and the upper 30 megahertz for vehicular safety communications. 

With Wi-Fi traffic becoming increasingly congested, it’s clear that more unlicensed spectrum is needed. Americans connect routers, fitness trackers, baby monitors, TVs and household appliances through Wi-Fi — and the number of connected devices is estimated to grow. In 2017, Americans had on average eight networked devices per capita, according to Cisco; by 2022, that number is estimated to increase to 13.6. 

Opening up the 5.9 GHz band also has dramatic economic implications. In 2017, a study found that consumer use of residential Wi-Fi contributed $258.7 billion to the American economy. With more unlicensed spectrum, this number is sure to grow. 

This is just one move the FCC has made to ensure that spectrum is being put to its most efficient use. Twenty years ago, the FCC allocated all 75 megahertz in this band to Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), a technology that enables car-to-car communication. DSRC did not progress as quickly as planned. 

Of the 30 megahertz for vehicle safety communications, the upper 20 megahertz will be dedicated to Cellular Vehicle-To-Everything (C-V2X). The FCC will seek comment on whether the remaining 10 megahertz should be used for C-V2X or DSRC. DSRC has not been deployed in many vehicles as of now, but automotive manufactures have plans to deploy this technology in future models by 2023.

The FCC’s proposal intends to promote both automotive safety and innovation through unlicensed spectrum and dedicated automotive safety uses. 

“Let’s resist the notion that we have to choose between automotive safety and Wi-Fi,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a recent speech. “My proposal would do far more for automotive safety and Wi-Fi than the status quo.” 

The proposal has support from think tanks, consumer groups, the private sector and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The FCC will vote on the measure at its monthly open commission meeting today. 

Photo credit: Tom Mrazek (Flickr)