Widespread gigabit Wi-Fi could be right around the corner, as the FCC plans to vote next month on a plan to free up 45 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use.
As senior FCC officials noted on a call with reporters today, an adjacent spectrum band already is used for Wi-Fi and widespread Wi-Fi equipment already on the market is capable of using the additional 45 MHz of spectrum in addition to the spectrum that the equipment already uses.
When both bands are combined, the equipment should be able to support gigabit Wi-Fi.
FCC Gigabit Wi-Fi
The 45 MHz that the FCC proposed to make available for unlicensed use is a portion of a broader 75-MHz band that was assigned over two decades ago to support intelligent transportation systems using dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology.
That technology has been scarcely deployed and auto industry attention has shifted toward alternative and incompatible technology know as cellular vehicle-to-everything communications, or C-V2X.
A notice of proposed rulemaking adopted by the FCC late last year proposed retaining 10 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for DSRC and 20 MHz for C-V2X. But the proposal that the FCC will vote on next month calls for 30 MHz to be allocated to C-V2X and leaves no allotment for DSRC.
Senior FCC officials said that FCC research had shown that 30 MHz was the appropriate amount of spectrum to be dedicated to C-V2X to support automotive safety applications and that C-V2X was the most efficient technology to use for those applications.
Combining 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band with existing unlicensed spectrum “would create a 160-megahertz wide Wi-Fi channel, which can enable gigabit connectivity in homes, schools, small businesses, and healthcare facilities,” noted FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a blog post. “The 5.9 GHz band can also help improve and expand broadband access in both rural and urban America.”
In a press release about the FCC gigabit Wi-Fi action, Pai said “I hope my colleagues will . . . join me in offering the American people a new chance for automotive safety communications in the 5.9 GHz band that will actually be deployed while meeting the ever-growing demand for Wi-Fi capacity.”
WISP industry trade group WISPA signaled its enthusiasm for the proposed FCC action. This move also frees up more unlicensed spectrum for fixed wireless use. The FCC actually gave temporary use of this spectrum to over 100 WISPs during the pandemic to help improve broadband access.
“We wholeheartedly support this exciting new allocation of unlicensed spectrum,” the trade group said in a press release about the FCC gigabit Wi-Fi action. “Consumers and those in the digital divide will reap the windfall of innovative new services provided by WISPs and others, which will soon populate that fallow band.”
The proposal includes a timeline and technical parameters for transitioning the “limited number” of intelligent transportation system licensees to the upper 30 MHz portion of the band and to C-V2X technology. The proposal also includes technical rules to enable full-power outdoor licensed operations in the lower 45 MHz portion of the band.