wireless towerA group of 33 wireless internet service providers (WISPs) will be allowed to temporarily use spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band to help meet increased bandwidth demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC said today. The special temporary authority (STA) decision came in response to a petition from the WISPs, a spokesman for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), told Telecompetitor. The wireless ISPs STA will be in effect for 60 days.

In a press release, WISPA President and CEO Claude Aiken noted that WISPA members are seeing over a 35% bump in traffic in peak hours and more than 90% of members have had requests from customers to increase the speed of their service. Getting access to the additional spectrum will help meet that demand, Aiken said.

The WISPs operate primarily in rural areas, typically where equivalent wireline-based broadband is not available. According to an FCC press release, the 33 WISPs provide service in 330 counties in 29 states.

Wireless ISPs STA
The 5.9 GHz spectrum band includes spectrum between 5.85 and 5.925 GHz. The wireless ISPs STA will allow the 33 WISPs to use the lower 45 MHz of the band.

As WISPA explains in its press release, the 33 WISPs already have deployed equipment operating in the 5 GHz band, which can easily be updated to use the additional 45 MHz of spectrum.

The FCC is considering repurposing the entire 5.9 GHz band, a portion of which for years has been in the hands of the auto industry for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The commission has proposed making the lower 45 MHz of the band, which is not allocated to the auto industry, available for unlicensed use. When 5.9 GHz spectrum is used in combination with 5 GHz spectrum, it has the potential to support faster Wi-Fi at speeds up to a gigabit per second.

As the 33 WISPs put some of the 5.9 GHz spectrum to use, it should help further efforts to reallocate that spectrum.

The wireless ISPs STA is the latest example of the FCC granting STA authority for service providers to use vacant spectrum during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous STA authorizations involved mobile carriers, who in most cases borrowed spectrum licensed to other entities – although the FCC also freed up some spectrum from commission inventory.

The FCC said in its press release that it will post a list of the 33 companies that received the wireless ISPs STA on its website.

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