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FCC takes a fresh look at 5.9 GHz band following ‘decades of dormancy’

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FCC takes a fresh look at 5.9 GHz band following ‘decades of dormancy’
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The economic value created by Wi-Fi in the U.S. is projected to double by 2023, reaching nearly $1 trillion

After what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has referred to as “two decades of dormancy,” the FCC is taking a fresh look the 5.9 GHz band, ultimately voting unanimously last week to advance a proposal that would reallocate large portions of the mid band, dedicating spectrum to Cellular Vehicle to Everything, or C-V2X, and unlicensed Wi-Fi.

When speaking to RCR Wireless News, Extreme Networks’ CTO Eric Broockman was careful to point out that while he has his own perspective on the FCC’s decision to reallocate the 5.9 GHz band, it is a controversial topic. “For every five people you ask for an opinion, you’re going to get seven different answers,” he elaborated. “That’s just the nature of these things.”

Twenty years ago, the Commission allocated 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for a technology called Dedicated Short-Range Communications, or DSRC. However, DSRC, which was designed to facilitate motor vehicle-related communications, was never widely deployed, according to Pai.

Broockman agreed with Pai’s assertion that the original 10 megahertz of spectrum that was set aside in the 5.9 band to be used for vehicular communication hasn’t reached any kind of true momentum. “And at the same time,” he continued, “a bunch of different companies started bringing forward C-V2X, which leverages cellular technology and 5G.”

Further, Broockman said that beyond the obvious momentum behind C-V2X, there is reason to believe that China has decided to make the vehicular communication technology mandatory in all cars within the next year, which he considers another main reason the FCC is so motivated to dedicate spectrum to the growing technology.

Specifically, the FCC plans to reserve 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band exclusively for C-V2X, which uses standard cellular protocols to provide direct communications between vehicles, and, as the name suggests, everything else — including other vehicles on the road, infrastructure, cyclists and pedestrians. Further, as networks become faster and more responsive with the continued rollout of 5G, C-V2X is expected to support the new, advanced applications that will surely emerge.

In addition, the lower 45 megahertz (5.85-5.895 GHz) will be repurposed for unlicensed operations such as Wi-Fi. According to Pai, this band is ideally suited to meet exploding Wi-Fi demands because of its location next to 5.725-5.850 GHz band that’s already allocated for unlicensed use.

Pai noted that Wi-Fi has become a “staple of everyday life” and thanks to the ever-increasing adoption of wireless technology, as well as the new capabilities of Wi-Fi 6, the economic value created by Wi-Fi in the United States is projected to double by 2023, reaching nearly $1 trillion.

“To fully realize Wi-Fi’s potential,” Pai said, “we need to make more spectrum available for unlicensed use.”

Broockman, too, could not help but discuss some of the remarkable new capabilities of the next generation of Wi-Fi. These, capabilities, he pointed out, aren’t so much focused on speed, but on density.

He also said that Extreme Networks expects to see good adoption of Wi-Fi 6 in the coming year, mostly because numerous handsets that include Wi-Fi 6 are already coming to market.

When it comes to the FCC’s decision to allocate spectrum for unlicensed to be used by Wi-Fi, he believes they will do so in two steps. “The first will be the indoor rules, followed by a gap where they work on interference mitigation techniques. And then the outdoor rules will come at a later time,” he explained.

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