FCC Plans to Open More Spectrum for Unlicensed Use | Citizens Against Government Waste
The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

FCC Plans to Open More Spectrum for Unlicensed Use

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On December 12, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be voting to adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the Use of the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band (ET Docket No. 19-138), which will make additional spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band. 

The proposal splits the 5.9 GHz band, aligning with Europe by setting aside 30 MHz of the band for vehicle to vehicle communications and vehicle safety applications.  The proposal further adjusts this spectrum allocation by designating 20 MHz of the band for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X), and the remaining 10 MHz for either DSRC or C-V2X communications.  The remaining 45 MHz of spectrum, in the lower portion of the band, will be used for unlicensed purposes including unlicensed Wi-Fi applications, which combined with the already unlicensed adjacent 5.8 GHz band widely used for Wi-Fi, will create a 160 MHz contiguous band of unlicensed spectrum that will support many of the new applications coming available through the 5G networks, and will support the latest technology in Wi-Fi, known commonly as Wi-Fi 6.

The NPRM seeks to resolve a problem stemming from 1999, when the FCC set aside the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for the development of dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) systems operating in the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) radio service for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.  Any other use of the 75 MHz of spectrum in this band required continual waiver requests to the FCC.  Unlike the U.S., Europe has set aside only 30 MHz of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for ITS.  And, while DSRC is used for truck platooning throughout Europe, its use in personal vehicles has been limited to one vehicle model deployed in the U.S.  To be fully effective, DSRC must be installed in every single vehicle on the road.

On December 4, 2019, CAGW President Tom Schatz and Innovation Economy Institute President Bartlett Cleland led a coalition letter to the FCC supporting this initiative, noting that, “This band-split approach is the best way to support the deployment of the latest automotive safety technologies and meet the need for new unlicensed wireless broadband spectrum to support critical communications at hospitals, ports, railyards, airports, homes, and offices.” 

Adoption of this new NPRM will be a positive for automotive safety by eliminating the need for waiver requests to test new technologies, while allowing for next generation communications to continue to develop. 

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