Cover: The Potential Economic Value of Unlicensed Spectrum in the 5.9 GHz Frequency Band

The Potential Economic Value of Unlicensed Spectrum in the 5.9 GHz Frequency Band

Insights for Future Spectrum Allocation Policy

Published Nov 28, 2018

by Diana Gehlhaus, Nicholas Martin, Marjory S. Blumenthal, Philip Armour, Jesse Lastunen

Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.8 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Research Questions

  1. What is the potential economic value of opening the 5.9 GHz frequency band for WiFi use?
  2. What trade-offs are associated with realizing this potential value, in terms of existing and future trends and policies and in terms of how this spectrum could be allocated?

Wireless communications — particularly those enabled by WiFi — play an indispensable role in generating economic prosperity and opportunity, yet there are few empirically driven estimates on how WiFi contributes to the economy. This report helps fill this gap by estimating the potential economic value of the 5.9 GHz frequency band — this portion of spectrum was allocated by the Federal Communications Commission for short-range vehicle-to-vehicle communications in 1999, but, as of 2018, reconsidering this band for WiFi use has become a subject of discussion.

The authors detail two approaches for estimating the 5.9 GHz band's potential contribution to U.S. gross domestic product. They also estimate the band's contribution to consumer surplus and producer surplus, provide a sensitivity analysis for the estimates, and consider how current trends and potential future policies, such as privacy regulation, trade policy, and fifth-generation (5G) network deployment, could affect the estimates.

The goal of these estimates is to help inform the ongoing debate regarding the 5.9 GHz band. This debate is particularly important because decisions made regarding this the allocation of this frequency band could set a precedent for future unlicensed spectrum policymaking.

Key Findings

  • The 5.9 GHz band's annual potential contribution to U.S. gross domestic product ranges from $59.8 to $105.8 billion.
  • Opening the 5.9 GHz band for WiFi could provide gains to economic welfare in the form of consumer and producer surplus of $82.2 billion to $189.9 billion.
  • Factors that could reduce our estimates of repurposing the 5.9 GHz band include privacy regulation, trade policy, fifth-generation (5g) network deployment, and technology choices associated with communications between vehicles and between vehicles and infrastructure.

Research conducted by

This research was funded by the Comcast Innovation Fund and conducted in the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.