Posted February, 14 2017


Wi-Fi is so much a part of our connected society that most people say a week without Wi-Fi would leave them grumpier than a week without coffee. More than 85 million American households have Wi-Fi access points. And the number of Wi-Fi devices is even higher—more than a billion are expected to be in the marketplace by 2019. But this ever-growing demand for Wi-Fi has outpaced supply—as anyone who tries to get on the Internet in a busy Starbucks has probably discovered, Wi-Fi spectrum is quickly becoming congested.

Wi-Fi relies on unlicensed spectrum—spectrum that is open for use by anyone willing to follow the rules, rather than auctioned off to a single company. We need more unlicensed spectrum to meet growing demand and ease congestion so that American consumers can continue to enjoy successful unlicensed technologies like Wi-Fi.

 As NCTA, Qualcomm, and Broadcom described in a recent joint letter to the FCC, the 5.9 GHz band is the single best near-term opportunity for the FCC to expand the nation’s unlicensed spectrum resources. Why? First, other users of the band haven’t yet moved beyond pilot projects, so with an almost empty band to work with, sharing is far less complicated than in any other spectrum band. Second, the 5.9 GHz band is right next to an existing Wi-Fi band that millions of consumers are already using. That means lower equipment costs for consumers and a far faster roll out. The 5.9 band is also the only pending band that innovators can use for the newest Wi-Fi technology—Gigabit Wi-Fi, and it’s the only band that would give consumers a full-powered, contiguous Gigabit Wi-Fi channel. As the letter says, no other band is better positioned to improve unlicensed Internet connectivity without the need for the kind of complicated relocation or sharing approaches that the FCC has considered for other bands.

So what’s the problem?  Why hasn’t the FCC made this spectrum available?  The companies that already have access to the band but have not yet launched commercial service—using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technologies—are reluctant to share. DSRC has two purposes: First, it could in the future allow vehicles to communicate with one another to generate warnings for drivers about impending crash situations and second, automakers plan to use DSRC to offer a whole host of non-safety services like drive-thru payments, entertainment, and wireless advertising to vehicles. DSRC interests prefer that the FCC reserve the whole band for their use. But if the FCC allows sharing, they ask the FCC to adopt a set of poison pill rules that would permit sharing in name only, but, in reality would block any commercially reasonable Wi-Fi use of the band. For example, DSRC interests ask the FCC to require every nearby Wi-Fi consumer to stop transmitting in the entire 5.9 GHz band—and even in part of the existing adjacent Wi-Fi band where Wi-Fi operates today—if Wi-Fi senses a transmission from a single DSRC device used to buy a burger at a drive thru. That’s not sharing. This approach would render the whole band totally unusable for Wi-Fi consumers.

NCTA, Qualcomm, and Broadcom see a better path that protects DSRC safety applications and permits Wi-Fi  By rechannelizing the band, the FCC can provide three exclusive channels for safety services, while allowing non-safety DSRC to share fairly with Wi-Fi in the rest of the band using mechanisms already built into the standards for both technologies. NCTA and its members are fully committed to not causing harmful interference to safety systems. Rechannelization is the best way to do so and also allow Wi-Fi consumers access to the single most promising spectrum band for relieving congestion.

NCTA stands ready to continue applying our technical resources and expertise to ensure sharing succeeds. We strongly believe that rechannelization will improve the availability and quality of Wi-Fi while simultaneously ensuring that DSRC crash-avoidance technologies maintain the highest level of reliability. The need for more Wi-Fi increases every day – and vehicle safety is critical. By working together on a solution that lifts both of these important technologies up, we’re ensuring a future where innovation, safety, and connectivity are a shared and consistent priority.


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