FCC suggests more spectrum for drone communications

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules to allocate licensed radio spectrum in the 5030-5091 MHz band for the increasing number of drones in operation.

The FCC in the has proposed new rules to allow drones to operate under licensed and higher-power wireless communications rules, rather than the current unlicensed and low-power rules or experimental licenses. 

The FCC is also seeking input on whether the current regulations for various spectrum bands are sufficient to ensure the compatibility of drones with terrestrial mobile operations. 

In addition, the FCC has proposed a method by which operators of drones might receive a license to operate inside the aeronautical VHF band, which would enable them to communicate with air traffic control and other aircraft.

Because of their present and prospective applications, the FCC is thinking about methods to make drone operations more reliable.

FCC must ensure that spectrum meets needs of drone applications

“It is past time that we assess the availability of wireless communications resources for the increasingly important remote-piloted aircraft activity we rely on today,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “The FCC must ensure that our spectrum rules meet the current – and future – spectrum needs of evolving technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems, which can be critical to disaster recovery, first responder rescue efforts, and management.”

A Thermal Drone Aids Firefighters Battling An Apartment Fire In Boulder, Co
A aids battling an apartment fire in Boulder, CO.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) have been working together on this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as part of the formal Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee process.

“I thank our colleagues at NTIA and FAA for their engagement on this proceeding, and I look forward to building a strong public record for this rulemaking,” said Rosenworcel.

FCC commissioner, Geoffrey Starks said the following in a statement:

I'm pleased to see us move toward unleashing more spectrum for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

As I've said before, this is an area where the United States can clearly lead with the right regulatory support. U.S. companies and research universities continue to incubate drone technologies at FAA-designated testing sites across the country—including in , where I previously visited a testbed to learn about the industry's vision and growing challenges. In 2021, we helped drive drone development through the establishment of FCC “Innovation Zones.” We followed it up by refreshing the record on a path forward for drones in the 5030-5091 MHz band—which is the focus of our action today.

As I said back then, “these systems cannot truly flourish without Commission action governing the operation of UAS in licensed spectrum,” and getting there “will require careful work with our federal partners.” Today, after close collaboration with NTIA and the FAA, we're proposing service and licensing rules to support robust, reliable, and safe UAS deployments in the 5 GHz band. That's real progress.

Of course, even as far as the Commission's role is concerned, securing a vibrant future for UAS isn't about just one frequency band. That's why I'm pleased to see us incorporate other critical issues related to drone operations into this notice of proposed rulemaking. Consistent with industry and academic interest and ongoing standards-setting efforts, we're exploring 5G as a UAS platform and the broader use of cellular bands for drone applications. We're also proposing a way to license drone communications with air traffic control.

UAS technologies pose plenty of potential, and their promise goes well beyond just package deliveries. They can aid disaster relief, protect critical infrastructure, enhance smart applications and precision agriculture, improve public safety, and even help us build more safely and efficiently. We're right to continue supporting their development, even as we also explore the unique policy challenges posed by their operation.

I am grateful to the Commission staff who developed this item. It has my full support.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established new regulations in April 2021 that made it possible for small drones to fly over people and at night.

In accordance with these regulations, manufacturers have been given a time frame of 18 months to start creating drones that are outfitted with technology. This technology requires the drones to transmit identifying signals through radio frequency broadcasts.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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