The Federal Communications Commission has been doling out special access to spectrum as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to help operators deal with the strains on wireless networks as a result of increased network traffic due to telework, remote learning and other connectivity uses. The agency released an update on its efforts in this area, saying that it has granted Special Temporary Authority (STA) to around 100 wireless internet service providers to operate in 45 megahertz of the largely unused 5.9 GHz band, to support customers in rural and suburban areas.

The FCC has an ongoing proposed rulemaking that would require intelligent automotive systems to share the band, which was previous set aside for Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC). FCC Chairman Aji Pai’s plan calls for dividing up the 75 megahertz of spectrum at 5.9 GHz as follows: the lower 45 megahertz would go for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi, the upper 20 megahertz for C-V2X, and the FCC is considering whether the remaining 10 megahertz should remain set aside for Dedicated Short-Range Communications or also go to C-V2X.

The recent STAs granted by the FCC are in the lower 45 megahertz of the band — the same area which the FCC is proposing be available for unlicensed use at all times, not just under STAs during a national emergency. That 45 megahertz is adjacent to additional unlicensed spectrum in the 5.725 GHz to 5.850 GHz range.

“American consumers are relying more than ever on broadband, so I’m pleased that 5.9 GHz spectrum is helping fixed wireless broadband providers deliver faster and more efficient service for consumers,” said Pai in a statement. “I’m grateful to these companies for making a positive difference in their communities, delivering Internet access that’s sorely needed in some of the hardest-to-connect places in our country.”

The FCC called out more than a dozen WISPs specifically in a release, detailing the instances where companies in Ohio, Texas, Arizona and other states had used 5.9 GHz to bolster their sites’ performance, reduce strain on backhaul links or expand their service availability.

Amplex, of Luckey, Ohio, told the FCC that the STA access to 5.9 GHz has been a “great help” in helping the network operator meet a +30% jump in bandwidth demand as a result of the pandemic. “With a simple software update, the additional spectrum has allowed the provider to increase bandwidth across the network by 50% while also reducing congestion on other spectrum bands,” the FCC said.

The FCC said that as a result of the STA, Idaho-based Intermax Networks saw “surprising figures” and “dramatically decreased noise floors” that resulted in some of its access points having throughput increase by up to 75%. MetaLink Technologies, which is based in Defiance, Ohio, told the FCC that the additional spectrum “enables it to ‘provide a better Internet experience’ for customers by ‘expanding the throughput, reducing latency, and providing better modulation in a less noisy environment.’” Texas-based Nextlink reported that more than 2,000 of its subscribers have been able to upgrade their speed plans “to higher levels than was possible before the grant, and the reduction in interference has benefitted other WISPs operating nearby.”

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