The FCC wants to test sharing 5.9GHz Wi-Fi spectrum with connected cars

The FCC wants to test sharing 5.9GHz Wi-Fi spectrum with connected cars
Credit: Baidu self-driving car

At an event in Washington DC today called “The Road to Gigabit Wi-Fi,” FCC commissioners spoke about the need to share the 5.9GHz WiFi spectrum with smart cars to allow future expansion.

In 1999, the FCC allocated 75MHz of the 5.9GHz spectrum for a system called DSRC (Dedicated Short-range Communication), which was to be used by ‘intelligent transportation solutions’ in the future, such as intersection collision avoidance.

Fast-forward 17 years, and while some DSRC systems have been implemented in countries like Singapore, the standard has seen little adoption.

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi spectrum at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz has become rapidly crowded, and regulators have begun looking toward the next space — the problem is, that space is currently reserved for cars.

Today’s speech, by FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O’Rielly, focused on effectively sharing that little-used spectrum with the car industry in the future, so that Wi-Fi’s speed and capabilities can be easily boosted.

Rosenworcel took the stage today and started by saying that “We need Gigabit Wi-Fi” and that “more devices have been certified to use the 2.4 GHz band than any other band in our skies.”

Rosenworcel also said that “when DSRC was new, driverless cars were the stuff of science fiction. But autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are now not only on display at the Consumer Electronics Show—they are being tested on our roadways.”

Continuing, she argued that “[…] a wide range of new technologies are coming to market that support features like automatic braking and lane change warnings that use radar and other spectrum technologies not dependent on DSRC.”

As a result, the FCC and the automotive industry has come to an agreement to test sharing the DSRC spectrum, so that both car safety systems and your home WiFi could share the same space in the future.

According to Rosenworcel, the 5.9GHz band is an “ideal place” to explore WiFi expansion, which would help deliver network speeds beyond 1 gigabit per second.

Automotive companies are concerned that sharing the spectrum with Wi-Fi could cause interference, which is why testing is slated to begin in the coming years.

O’Rielly argued that DSCR is both “underutilized and underwhelming [and] we won’t see our first deployment outside of a testing area until 2017, when Cadillac will equip its CTC with DSRC” with the rest of the industry not expected to follow for “at least another two years.”

If the FCC is successful at splitting and sharing the 5.9GHz spectrum, it’s a promising proposition for home WiFi — you’ll be able to get speeds that are only able to be delivered via a network cable right now.

The problem is, it’ll likely be a long wait.

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