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Gigabit WiFi Spectrum: Another Report Recommends Sharing with Auto Industry

May 2, 2016 By Molly White in

Gigabit WiFi could get a boost if the U.S. government heeds recommendations from a growing number of parties to make new spectrum available for WiFi use on a shared basis with the auto industry. The potential gigabit WiFi spectrum is in the 5.9 GHz band, which is adjacent to spectrum in the 5.8 GHz band that is already used for WiFi.

The latest recommendations involving gigabit WiFi spectrum come from The Brattle Group, which issued a report for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association funded by Comcast. The NCTA has been advocating for more unlicensed spectrum as a means of enabling cable companies to better compete with telecom companies that offer wireless as well as triple-play services including broadband, video and voice.

Fifteen years ago the government allocated 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for Intelligent Transportation Systems, including traffic safety capabilities enabled through vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) via dedicated short range communications (DSRC). Now The Brattle Group and others, including two FCC commissioners, want to explore the possibility of making 45 MHz of the total 75 MHz available for unlicensed use on a shared basis with automotive applications. Also advocating for further exploration of that possibility is the New America Open Technology Institute which previously issued a report on the topic.

Spectrum sharing has become an increasingly viable option for maximizing the value of spectrum as the result of advances in database technology.

Gigabit WiFi Spectrum

A large portion of The Brattle Group report is dedicated to critiquing a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that offered estimates of the impact of V2V systems on vehicle crash rates. According to The Brattle Group, the NHTSA analysis only measures the benefits of V2V “relative to the current state of vehicle-safety technologies and not relative to an appropriate baseline that includes other expected safety improvements.”

The Brattle Group also critiques the NHTSA analysis for not exploring the potential impact of spectrum sharing. Researchers at The Brattle Group estimated the monetary impact of making a portion of the 5.9 GHz band available for gigabit WiFi at between $166 billion and $603 billion.

The FCC previously freed up spectrum in the 5.1 GHz band for unlicensed use so that it could be combined with the 5.8 GHz spectrum to support gigabit WiFi. But in a briefing with reporters to announce The Brattle Group report, a spectrum sharing advocate noted a key advantage to opening up a portion of the 5.9 GHz band as gigabit WiFi spectrum.

“Contiguous channels provide maximum efficiency and throughput for gigabit WiFi,” said Paul Margie, a partner with law firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP who specializes in telecom, during the briefing.

Margie said The Brattle Group report, titled “The Economic Costs and Benefits of a Federal Mandate That All Light Vehicles Employ 5.9 GHz DSRC Technology,” will be filed with the NHTSA as part of a proceeding about DSRC. He added that he hopes the FCC will do a “record refresh” and test multiple spectrum sharing technologies with the goal of opening up part of the 5.9 GHz band as gigabit WiFi spectrum.

“Contiguous channels provide maximum efficiency and throughput for gigabit WiFi,” said Paul Margie, a partner with law firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP who specializes in telecom, during the briefing.

Margie said The Brattle Group report, titled “The Economic Costs and Benefits of a Federal Mandate That All Light Vehicles Employ 5.9 GHz DSRC Technology,” will be filed with the NHTSA as part of a proceeding about DSRC. He added that he hopes the FCC will do a “record refresh” and test multiple spectrum sharing technologies with the goal of opening up part of the 5.9 GHz band as gigabit WiFi spectrum.

“Sharing is very possible,” said Margie.