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.
FCC Commissioner Wants Tests on 5.9GHz to Expand WiFi Access
However, she also faces opposition from automakers that are working on car-to-car communications; the Department of Transportation, which has been supporting that work; and other related research efforts aimed at reducing accidents.
The plans for 5.9GHz are part of Rosenworcel’s efforts to expand the use of unlicensed spectrum. One of the problems with such expansion is that the Congressional Budget Office looks at the value of spectrum legislation by considering the likely value to the government that would come from spectrum auctions, she said.
Since unlicensed spectrum doesn’t make money for the government, such legislation is assigned a lower value, the commissioner pointed out. This means that because there’s no way to auction this particular unlicensed spectrum, legislation for such use gets a lower priority.
Rosenworcel is proposing that the process of spectrum auctions be changed so that for every auction, there’s a cut included for unlicensed use such as WiFi.
The 3.5GHz band is the subject of what Rosenworcel called an interesting experiment in which incumbent federal users have the primary use of the frequencies, followed by short-term licensed users and then unlicensed users.
The experiment uses what she called a “listen-before-talking protocol,” which requires the secondary users of the band to make sure that it isn’t being used by a service with a higher priority before they transmit anything. This is similar to the CSMA (Carrier Sense Multiple Access) protocol developed for AlohaNet, the wireless precursor to Ethernet.
Television white space is another example of the kind of unlicensed use for which Rosenworcel supports tests. There are already two approved database providers that can give local details as to the availability of television white space for use, she said.
Because the location of that white space varies according to the locality and which television stations have given up some of the space that they were originally licensed to use, a real-time database is essential.
Rosenworcel said that the 600MHz spectrum auctions will include some white space, which will allow a broad availability of this spectrum. “I want channels in every community,” she said.
Despite that, it was clear that Rosenworcel considers the unlicensed spectrum, including WiFi, to be extremely important to the overall innovation in wireless. “It’s a place for permissionless innovation,” she said. She noted that WiFi alone had produced more than $140 million in economic activity last year. “We need to watch it grow,” Rosenworcel said, “and we need to protect what we have.”