By Claus Hetting, Wi-Fi NOW CEO & Chairman
More excellent regulatory news for the Wi-F industry in the USA: Last week Wednesday the FCC voted in favour of adopting new rules for the 5.9 GHz band. This means that Wi-Fi in the US henceforth will be allowed to operate in the lower 45 MHz while the upper 30 MHz will be allocated to automotive safety (C-V2X). The ruling makes room for a new and DFS-free 160 MHz Wi-Fi channel within the expanded 5 GHz band.
This year has already been pivotal for the Wi-Fi industry beginning of course with the FCC’s historic decision of April 23 to release 1.2 GHz of new spectrum to Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band. Now there’s even more great news – although this time the spectrum slice in question is a lot smaller.
After years of deliberations the FCC last week adopted new rules for the 5.9 GHz (5.850-5.925 GHz) band, which for 20 years has been left largely unused by its previous occupant, the automotive industry (for DSRC). The lower 45 MHz of spectrum will now be reallocated to Wi-Fi, which means that for the first time a non-DFS 160 MHz Wi-Fi channel will be available in the 5 GHz band.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last year described the 5.850-5.925 GHz band as ‘punching above its weight’ because of its limited size but important position adjacent to existing 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum allocations. The new allocation will impact Wi-Fi connectivity significantly because it unlocks gigabit services in 5 GHz – now for the first time without DFS restrictions.
The decision “will enable gigabit Wi-Fi connectivity for schools, hospitals, small businesses, and other consumers,” the FCC’s statement says. The FCC also cites mobile data offload as an important driver of the popular demand for more Wi-Fi spectrum.
The FCC further says that “the Report and Order adopts technical rules to enable full-power indoor unlicensed operations in the lower 45 megahertz portion of the band immediately, as well as opportunities for outdoor unlicensed use on a coordinated basis under certain circumstances.” The circumstances alluded to presumably relate to the need for the existing occupant to vacate the spectrum as well as a new Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) – also adopted at the FCC’s meeting last week – for the coordinated outdoor use of the new 45 MHz slice of unlicensed spectrum.
FCC Commissioner and impassioned Wi-Fi proponent Jessica Rosenworcel pushed for the reopening of the case for Wi-Fi in the 5.9 GHz band in September of 2018. In May of 2019 FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intention to introduce new 5.9 GHz rules speaking at Wi-Fi NOW USA 2019.