FCC Commissioner Wants Tests on 5.9GHz to Expand WiFi Access

NEWS ANALYSIS: Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pushes for plans to begin testing radio frequencies formerly allocated for the auto industry to expand access to WiFi.

FCC WiFi Tests 2

TYSONS, Va.—Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told a group of industry representatives that the 5.9GHz band is “our best near shot for having more WiFi” and called for tests to ensure that it can be effectively used for this purpose.

Rosenworcel was speaking at the WiFi Now conference held at the Sheraton Hotel here. The conference featured looks at some innovations in WiFi as well as new ways to monetize this primarily free service.

Perhaps the most important innovation came from Edgewater Wireless, which has developed a means for producing radio chips with three discrete channels. Those chips can be combined into access points containing many radios and transmitting on many channels.

Aptilo Networks, another vendor, was showing a venue management package that handles the seemingly insurmountable problem of operating WiFi at a major venue such as a stadium.

While at the conference, Rosenworcel took part in one of those “fireside chats” that seems to crop up with increasing frequency at events in here in the nation's capital.

In response to questions provided by conference organizers, Rosenworcel said that the FCC was in the process of finding a way to allow WiFi use to coexist with present users—primarily the automobile industry—in which 5.9GHz is allocated for use in vehicle-to-vehicle communications as car makers develop a communications system that would provide a way for cars to broadcast their intentions in traffic. It’s seen as a way to reduce accidents.

The initial allocation was made in 1999, and “in the intervening years the technology has changed,” Rosenworcel explained, adding that the demand for wireless has grown and interference abatement technology has improved.

“I think it’s a good time to act, that we look at that spectrum anew,” Rosenworcel said. The idea of sharing the 5.9GHz band between automotive safety uses and WiFi requires three steps, she said. “First, refresh the FCC record.”

That means updating the previous assumptions about the technology from 1999 and bringing it in sync with communications technology today. The second step is the sharing between WiFi and automotive safety systems in the lab, and the third step is actually trying the frequently band sharing on the road with real-world traffic, Rosenworcel said.

The commissioner said that a test plan for the WiFi and automotive sharing idea is due by the end of the summer, 2016, and that testing should begin in Oklahoma City and Raleigh, N.C.

Rosenworcel has been an advocate of adding the 5.9GHz band to WiFi since 2014, and she has support in Congress from both parties, which are working on bills to authorize such an expansion of WiFi access.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...