FCC Seeks Comment on 5.03 – 5.091 GHz for UAS Spectrum
Monday, August 23, 2021 | Comments

The FCC released a public notice seeking comment on using the 5.03 – 5.091 GHz band to support unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations.

Currently, UAS communications primarily rely on unlicensed access to spectrum, but some UAS proponents believe that licensed spectrum will be necessary to provide capacity to support future growth and reliability needed for safe operations of UAS.

The proceeding first launched in February 2018 when the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) filed a petition in which it asked the FCC to adopt licensing and service rules for control and non-payload communications (CNPC) links in the 5.03 to 5.091 MHz band.

In addition, a 2020 report from the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) found that the 5.03 – 5.091 GHz frequencies could potentially support UAS operations.

“Our review of the record developed in this matter indicates the unencumbered 5030-5091 MHz frequencies may support UAS operations, although technical, regulatory, and operational issues may affect the extent of such use,” the report said. “The record does not provide sufficient information to make a definitive assessment regarding the potential barriers to the use of such spectrum. We recommend that the commission initiate a rulemaking proceeding to develop service and licensing rules enabling UAS use of the 5030-5091 MHz band in collaboration with the FAA and NTIA.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed the FAA, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the FCC to submit a report examining whether the 5.03 – 5.091 GHz portion of the C-band or the 960 MHz to 1.164 GHz portion of the L-band could support UAS operations.

The report also found that there was significant concern of the impact of allowing UAS operations in the 960 to 1.164 GHz portion of the L-band on incumbent aeronautical navigation operations.

“We do not recommend moving forward with a proceeding to make 960 – 1164 MHz band available for UAS operations at this time,” the report said. “We recommend that the commission continue to study the use of this band for UAS purposes and to work with the FAA, NTIA and other stakeholders regarding the appropriate UAS rules and policies in the event that circumstances warrant initiating a rulemaking for this band.”

One other option that came from comments the organizations solicited was alternative frequencies licensed under flexible use service rules for UAS.

“In addition, the record reflects the widely held view that alternative frequencies licensed under flexible-use service rules are a promising option for UAS communications, particularly for beyond-visual line of sight and other network-based uses. The record is insufficient, however, to resolve certain issues including the potential for UAS in the flexible-use bands to cause harmful interference to other operations.”

The report recommended that the FCC continue to review potential use of the flexible use spectrum for UAS and to collect feedback from federal and private sector stakeholders to figure out whether interference could be addressed through private actions such as industry standards and agreements or if regulatory measures are necessary.

The report recommended that the FCC initiate a rulemaking proceeding to develop service and licensing rules to enable UAS use of the 5.03 – 5.091 GHz band and continue to examine the potential benefits and technical challenges of using the flexible use band for UAS use.

Find the full report here.

The FCC said it issued the new public notice to update the record in order to reflect operational and regulatory developments that have occurred in the last three years since the proceeding began.

Additionally, the FCC is seeking further comment on specific areas of the AIA proposal.

“Finally, because the focus of the AIA proposal and the resulting comment record appears to be in support of direct radio-line-of-sight (LOS) communications links between controller and unmanned aircraft, we seek comment on whether the commission should consider licensing alternatives in this band to support the growing interest in beyond radio-line-of-sight (BLOS) UAS operations,” the notice said. “We anticipate that the resulting record could help the commission to proceed with a more informed and specific notice of proposed rulemaking to make the 5030 – 5091 MHz band available as a suitable spectrum resource for UAS operations.”

Find the full public notice here.

“Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, could greatly enhance our public safety, economic competitiveness and scientific progress,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “That was the message I received in early 2020 when I visited the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, an FAA-designated UAS test site outside Las Vegas. But these systems cannot truly flourish without commission action governing the operation of UAS in licensed spectrum. That’s why I called for such action earlier this month. I’m therefore pleased to see today’s public notice seeking to refresh the record of a proceeding seeking a licensing framework for UAS. While the issues are complex and will require careful work with our federal partners at the FAA and NTIA, I’m hopeful that the new round of comments will allow the Commission to address the full spectrum needs of UAS and enable this important industry to fulfill its full potential.”

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