FCC Adopts Modernizing the 5.9 GHz Band R&O and FNPRM

On November 18, 2020, the Commission released the First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order of Proposed Modification (“R&O” and “FNPRM and “Order”) to repurpose the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.850-5.925 GHz band (the “5.9 GHz band”) for unlicensed operations.  This item was adopted at the November Open Meeting.


R&O:  The adopted R&O incorporates the following relevant changes from the circulated draft version:

  • The Commission clarifies that it sunsets the current technological standard authorized in the 5.9 GHz band in favor of C-V2X (¶ 3).
  • The Commission clarifies that intelligent transportation system (“ITS”) licensees will be able to continue their Dedicated Short-Range Communications (“DSRC”)-based operations or, alternatively, deploy C-V2X-based operations by obtaining a waiver subject to specified conditions (¶ 13).
  • The Commission adds that it modifies existing ITS licenses to permit operation only in the 5.895-5.925 GHz portion of the 5.9 GHz band following a one-year transition period.  The Commission modifies all licenses to add the 5.895-5.925 GHz channel block to the channels on which each roadside unit (“RSU”) is authorized to operate (¶ 51).
  • The Commission adds that it modifies all ITS licenses by sunsetting their authorizations to operate at 5.850-5.895 GHz.  The Commission will modify all active ITS licenses to authorize all individually registered RSUs not currently registered for operation on the full 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.895-5.925 GHz segment of the 5.9 GHz band to operate on that segment.  The Commission also adds as a condition on ITS part 90 licenses a notification requirement consistent with the transition deadline of one year from the effective date of the R&O (¶ 52).
  • The Commission directs the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to modify the existing license freeze to allow licensees to register new RSUs within the modified portion of the ITS band (5.895-5.925 GHz).  The Commission further clarifies that licensees may file a motion prior to the end of the one-year transition period, to modify their existing RSU registrations to reflect operations only in the 5.895-5.925 GHz portion of the band (¶ 54).
  • The Commission will permit any existing or future part 90 ITS licensee to operate C-V2X-based RSUs in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band within its geographic licensing areas by requesting and obtaining a waiver of the Commission’s rules, subject to specific conditions.  The R&O directs the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to issue a public notice within 30 days of the effective date of the R&O to provide further clarity on a streamlined waiver process to provide licensees authority to operate roadside units with C-V2X-based technology in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band in the near term (¶ 55).
  • The Commission adds that it will take action to enable use of C-V2X-based on-board units as soon as possible (¶ 56).
  • The Commission declines to adopt a mechanism for funding transition costs of ITS licensees at this time.  The Commission acknowledged that a mechanism for funding may be appropriate, but declines to adopt a specific mechanism because they did not propose one in the first NPRM.  Given the limited deployment and the fact that licensees are typically government entities, the Commission expects that there will be little practical difficulty caused by delaying the resolution of the issue to the Further Notice (¶ 57).
  • The Commission adopts exception to accommodate devices such as Wi-Fi extenders and mesh networking equipment intended to work in conjunction with an indoor access point and share the same propagation path and thus the same power requirements.  These devices will be permitted to operate at the same power levels as an indoor access point provided that they comply with all other requirements (¶ 67).
  • The Commission addressed concerns by unlicensed device operators that a contention-based protocol is not required for access points and their associated client devices.  The Commission clarified that it is “not requiring unlicensed devices in the 5.9 GHz band to include a contention-based protocol because the co-channel DSRC operations that would be protected by such a protocol are not widely deployed and those that are deployed are required to vacate the band in one year.”  Nevertheless, the Commission found that existing DSRC operations would benefit during the transition period from a contention-based protocol and that “the contention-based protocol in conjunction with the expected low Wi-Fi activity can result in lower device EIRP.”  The Commission thus adopted the same contention-based protocol requirements to protect DSRC-based vehicle-to-vehicle operations as it had adopted to protect federal operations (¶ 77).
  • The Commission is not permitting outdoor unlicensed operations across the 5.850-5.895 GHz portion of the 5.9 GHz band at this time, but will allow limited outdoor operations (on a non-interference basis) through either the Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) or other existing regulatory processes.  The Commission will coordinate requests for outdoor unlicensed operations with NTIA, until such time as ITS operations will have ceased operating in the 5.850-5.895 GHz portion of the 5.9 GHz band and the Commission will have developed mechanisms to ensure protection of federal operations (¶ 86).
  • The Commission included a discussion on possible interference faced by FSS satellites and the best means to protect them.  The Commission discussed the various concerns of FSS satellite operators and concluded that it was unlikely that low-power unlicensed devices would cause harmful interference to the space station receivers, since the devices are not expected to radiate significant power skyward.  The Commission further concluded that designing and monitoring an Automatic Frequency Coordination (“AFC”) system, as proposed by SES Americom and Intelsat, would be extremely burdensome and ultimately unnecessary to protect FSS satellites from harmful interference.  As a precaution, however, the Commission proposes in the Further Notice to limit access points’ EIRP above a 30 degree elevation angle to 21 dBm, similar to what the Commission already requires in the U-NII-1, U-NII-5, and U-NII-7 bands (¶¶ 88-91).


FNPRM: The Commission made the following changes from the circulated draft version:


  • The Commission seeks comment on whether it should limit use of the 5.895-5.925 GHz band to non-commercial services or safety-of-life applications.  Open Technology Institute at New America and Public Knowledge have filed a petition for rulemaking asking the Commission to prohibit any commercial operations in ITS spectrum.  The Commission seeks comment on this proposal specifically addressing whether the rules should be modified to limit this spectrum use to safety-of-life applications, how safety-of-life should be defined, whether the Commission needs to draft a list of approved devices, whether there need to be limits on license eligibility, and whether such a restriction constitutes a fundamental license change (¶ 168).


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