The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) released a Public Notice last week to refresh the record on the use of certain spectrum in the 5 GHz band for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). A petition for rulemaking filed by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) asking the Commission to adopt licensing and service rules to enable drone use in the 5030-5091 MHz band (the C-band), has been pending since 2018.
The purpose of the Public Notice is “to update the record to reflect operational, technical, and regulatory developments that have occurred over the last three years in the rapidly growing and evolving area of UAS operations and that are relevant to this proceeding." In addition, the FCC asks specific questions related to AIA’s proposal and seeks comment on whether the Commission should consider licensing in the 5 GHz band not just for radio line of sight (LOS) links, but also for beyond LOS (BLOS) links. Comments will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and replies will be due 45 days after publication.
The proceeding is important because, with limited exception, drones do not have access to licensed spectrum in the United States. Although the C-band allocation is globally harmonized and has been on the books for a long time, the Commission has not adopted licensing and service rules to enable the use of the band. In the meantime, UAS operators typically must rely on unlicensed and unprotected spectrum to conduct operations. In 2020, pursuant to a mandate in the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology released a report recommending that the Commission undertake a proceeding to enable the use of the C-band for UAS.
In particular, the Public Notice seeks comment on the following: