Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) frequently use line-of-sight radio frequency communications with ground stations, though some advance systems utilize satellite or cloud-based networks to extend beyond direct line-of-sight. Interference and other vulnerabilities have increasingly become an issue as the use of drones and other unmanned systems continues to grow. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been working to establish a new regulatory framework to enable the scaling of these unmanned technologies and their communication systems.
On January 4, 2023, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking FC-22-101 seeking comment on proposed rules that would provide UAS access to licensed spectrum in the 5030-5091 MHz band. Comments were due within 30 days and reply comments are due within 60 days. Though these proposed FCC rules are intended to apply to UAS operating in riskier situations, like controlled airspace or “safety-critical UAS communication links”, the FCC also “anticipates that service rules sufficient to facilitate UAS operations will likely require development in phases”.
FC-22-101 proposes using the 5030-5091 MHz band to provide interference protection for control-and-non-payload communications (CNPC) links, dedicating portions of the spectrum to non-networked access (NNA), network-supported services (NNS) and multi-purpose uses (see figure below from the FCC). For NNA operations, frequencies would be assigned on a temporary basis and geographically restricted in response to flight plan submissions (as opposed to operator FCC licenses). For NSS operations, exclusive-use geographic area licenses are envisioned. Further, the FCC is seeking to enable and require UAS operators to apply for VHF band licenses for air traffic control integration with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Drone and other unmanned systems operators are encouraged to are encouraged to reach out to Michael Best’s Unmanned Technology group to participate in the ongoing rulemaking processes or to prepare for future compliance issues. Our team is constantly monitoring this changing landscape and working with our clients on ensuring compliance, qualifying for procurement opportunities, and collaborating on innovative products and processes. Contact the authors to learn more about how we can help, or to receive periodic updates on insights important to your business.