FCC Finds New Band Can Support Drones

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The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology released a report on spectrum use for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drone operations. The report finds the 5030-5091 MHz band is suitable for such operations and recommends that the Commission begin a rulemaking to develop service and licensing rules enabling drone use.

The report also finds alternative frequencies licensed under flexible-use service rules are a promising option for UAS communications. The report notes that, absent specific restrictions in the spectrum allocation or service rules, current law does not prohibit drone communications in the flexible use bands, but it finds that UAS does have the potential to cause harmful interference to other operations and recommends the agency continue to review the use of flexible-use bands for drones.  

Separately, the report raises concerns with similar proposed use of the 960-1164 MHz band and recommends continuing to seek public and stakeholder input on that issue. “With the increased reliance on UAS for various business and consumer uses, this was an appropriate time for Commission staff to review the spectrum needs of UAS,” said Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief Don Stockdale. “We found that there is a reasonable path forward for use of the 5030-5091 MHz band by drones. It is less clear at this time whether the proposed use of the 960-1164 MHz band is feasible. In both cases, there is more work to do, but this is a critical juncture as we seek to ensure that spectrum is available to meet the needs of these increasingly important devices.”

“We are optimistic about the use of flexible-use bands to support UAS operations,” said Ron Repasi, Acting Chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology. “However, we recognize that drone operations on flexible-use spectrum may raise interference issues for co-channel and adjacent-channel networks, so we recommend further work on using these bands for UAS.”

This report, mandated by Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, provides an analysis of the feasibility and impacts of spectrum use by UAS operations. Congress also directed the NTIA and FAA to file similar reports.

The FCC sent its report to both houses of Congress. The report, entitled “Report on Section 374 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018,” is available here.  

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