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FCC advances proposal to clear mid-band spectrum for Wi-Fi, other services

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Dec. 12 to advance a proposal to repurpose mid-band spectrum for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed services.

The commission approved a notice of proposed rulemaking that proposes to make the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band available for unlicensed operations, including Wi-Fi. It would also permit the use of a new automotive communications technology in the upper 20 MHz of the band and consider phasing out an older one in the remaining 10 MHz of the band.

Finally, the proposal seeks comment on whether the remaining 10 MHz in the band should be used for the new automotive communications technology or an older one known as Dedicated Short-Range Communications.

Currently, the 5.9 GHz band has all 75 MHz allocated for a technology known as Dedicated Short-Range Communications. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the band has been relatively unused due to a lack of popularity of that particular automotive communications technology, and thus it should be reallocated for more pressing needs.

"Wi-Fi currently carries more than half of the internet's traffic, and that share will only grow in the future," Pai said. "To fully realize Wi-Fi's potential, we need to make more spectrum available for unlicensed use."

Claus Hetting, CEO of Wi-Fi NOW, a Wi-Fi technology event and advisory organization, told S&P Global Market Intelligence last month in an email after the proposal was announced that it looks like a "sizeable win" for the Wi-Fi industry.

The proposal was opposed by Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a research and advocacy group, who argued that more of the 5.9 GHz band should remain available for connected vehicle technologies designed to improve roadway safety.

The commission also approved a notice of proposed rulemaking that suggests clearing the 3.3-3.55 GHz band of existing nonfederal users to fulfill a congressional mandate to explore commercial uses. Currently, that mid-band spectrum is used by both the U.S. Department of Defense and nonfederal users that offer radiolocation services on a secondary basis, Pai said.

In a November blog post, the FCC chairman proposed relocating current nonfederal users of the upper portion of the band to the nearby 3.1-3.3 GHz band or other frequencies to clear room for potential shared use between federal incumbents and commercial wireless services. Pai wrote that this could clear as much as 250 MHz of spectrum for advanced wireless services and "promote the development and deployment of 5G services across the country."

The agency also approved a notice of proposed rulemaking that proposes to designate 988 as a three-digit national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, and a notice of proposed rulemaking that will seek comment on whether to reform notice requirements relating to cable franchising.