FCC Should Move Swiftly on 5 GHz


The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Committee held a hearing this week on making more unlicensed spectrum available for WiFi deployment, an issue of growing importance as commercial Wi-Fi becomes an increasingly important alternative to mobile networks.

“Unlicensed wireless technologies have become an indispensable part of our information infrastructure in America,” Chairman Greg Walden said.

This is not a partisan issue. At a similar hearing on the Senate side this past summer, subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor recognized the need for more spectrum for Wi-Fi. Fortunately, the 5 GHz band is ideally suited for WiFi, not desirable for licensed broadband deployment, and is already in use for some Wi-Fi deployments.

Congress recognized the commonsense solution of removing restrictions on Wi-Fi deployent in the 5 GHz band in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.  That law required the FCC to open a proceeding on modifying its rules to allow Wi-Fi if:

(A) licensed users will be protected by technical solutions, including use of existing, modified, or new spectrum-sharing technologies and solutions, such as dynamic frequency selection; and
(B) the primary mission of Federal spectrum users in the 5350–5470 MHz band will not be compromised by the introduction of unlicensed devices.

As Comcast Senior VP Tom Nagel testify's at Walden's hearing this week:

"Allocating additional spectrum to unlicensed services does not mean that incumbent users of the 5 GHz band must be displaced.  While incumbent users are entitled to protection from harmful interference, they should not be allowed to block forward progress – especially when they have not yet deployed commercially available services.  With consumer demand for wireless broadband increasing, the importance of wireless services to the economy growing, and far more efficient spectrum sharing technologies emerging, incumbent intransigence cannot be allowed to leave spectrum unused or underutilized."

John Kenney, a researcher from Toyota working on a system called Dedicated Short-Range Communication to prevent vehicle collisions that is licensed for a portion of the 5 GHz band agreed that sharing the spectrum is possible, saying:

"Toyota is not conceptually opposed to sharing the 5.9 GHz spectrum with unlicensed devices and believes that it may be possible for DSRC and unlicensed devices to co-exist in the band. "

Walden himself concluded the hearing on a very positive note:

"We are excited to see the fruits of this subcommittee’s labor come to fruition in the form of faster and more abundant Wi-Fi, but not at the expense of existing licensed services.  These services can coexist and thanks to the hard work of the industries and agencies represented by our witnesses, we don’t have to choose between better Internet access and safer cars.”

This is an issue with a strong consensus and a tremendous opportunity for innovation benefiting consumers.

The FCC should move quickly to finalize rules to authorize unlicensed devices in the 5 GHz band.