FCC Proposes More Spectrum at 5 GHz for Unlicensed Broadband
On February 20, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in ET Docket No. 13-49, seeking to revise the Part 15 rules governing unlicensed national information infrastructure (U-NII) devices in the 5 GHz band. These devices presently operate in the frequency bands 5.15- 5.35 GHz and 5.47-5.825 GHz. They use wideband digital modulation techniques to provide a wide array of high data rate mobile and fixed communications for individuals, businesses and institutions. Slightly different rules apply to 5.825-5.85 GHz. Among the changes being proposed are two additional bands totaling 195 MHz for unlicensed operation: 5.35-5.47 GHz and 5.85-5.925 GHz. The Amateur Radio Service has a secondary allocation at 5.65-5.925 GHz, including an Amateur Satellite Service uplink allocation of 5.65-5.67 GHz and a downlink allocation of 5.83-5.85 GHz.
The FCC notes in the NPRM that since it first made available spectrum in the 5 GHz band for U-NII in 1997, it has gained “much experience” with these devices: “We believe that the time is now right for us to revisit our rules, and, in this NPRM, we propose to modify certain technical requirements for U-NII devices to ensure that these devices do not cause harmful interference and thus can continue to operate in the 5 GHz band and make broadband technologies available for consumers and businesses.”
The NPRM also satisfies Section 6406 (a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 that required the FCC to begin a proceeding to modify the Part 15 rules to allow unlicensed U-NII devices to operate in the 5.35-5.47 GHz band, subject to consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). In response to the same legislation, the NTIA recently released an evaluation of the 5.35-5.47 GHz and 5.85-5.925 GHz bands that details the existing occupancy of these bands by federal and non-federal users and the potential risks of expanded unlicensed use.
“The Amateur Radio Service has a good record as a spectrum partner with the other licensed services in the 5 GHz band,” observed ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. “The ARRL plans to respond to the NPRM by pointing out that meaningful access to the 5 GHz band for amateur and amateur satellite operations continues to be in the public interest.”
The FCC is accepting comments on its NPRM (due no later than 45 days after publication in the Federal Register), as well as reply comments (due 30 days later). No date has yet been set for the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register.