Nov 18, 2020 - Technology

FCC splits up auto safety airwaves for WiFi

Illustration of Capitol building with wifi beaming out
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission voted Wednesday to divvy up a swath of auto safety airwaves so a portion can be used for WiFi, over the objections of the Department of Transportation.

Why it matters: The FCC argues the change will lead to better WiFi services for Americans while still preserving some airwaves for auto safety communications, but the DOT has warned the change puts safety at risk.

Details: The FCC's plan repurposes 45 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for WiFi, while leaving 30 MHz for auto safety communications.

  • The agency originally dedicated the full 75 MHz 20 years ago for a technology known as Dedicated Short Range Communications, but that form of vehicle-to-vehicle communications has not been widely used.
  • Instead, the FCC says the remaining spectrum designated for auto safety will support a new technology, cellular-vehicle-to-everything communications, which is backed by Ford and other auto companies.

Yes, but: The DOT has argued the transportation industry needs the entire 75 MHz for safety and the FCC risks innovation in the band by divvying it up.

What's next: Some WiFi equipment in homes and businesses may be able to take advantage of the new spectrum with software upgrades.

Go deeper: Government agencies collide over airwaves for road safety tech

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