Something That Can Transform Transportation

The biggest challenge we face right now is a proposed [FCC] rule-making that would potentially open up that spectrum to other users that might, through their operations, effectively jam the safety messages,” according to Ken Leonard, Director of the ITS Joint Program Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The proposed FCC rule making Leonard refers to would expand the spectrum available for WiFi and encroach into the 75 MHz (5.85-5.925GHz) band that the FCC allocated in 1999 for Intelligent Transportation Service. The safety messages refer to the Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) communications that would occur using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC); radios that essentially act as mouths and ears for vehicles and associated fixed infrastructure, such as traffic signals.

This FCC rule making, which has been open since 2013, made the national news this week in an article in the Wall Street Journal. That article emphasized the friction between telecommunications providers and the automobile industry as to how this spectrum should be used.

Also, as widely reported in the past week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx committed that by the end of 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will provide the OMB with proposed rules requiring V2V communications on new vehicles. In that same speech, Secretary Foxx indicated that,

“The Department is committing to complete a preliminary test plan [testing whether the 5.9 GHz can be shared with unlicensed users] within 12 months after industry makes production-ready devices available for testing.”

In the above interview, filmed April 9th, 2015, Leonard provides an important overview and brief history of V2V communications and how the Department of Transportation, the automobile industry and academia have been working together to understand what is needed to for a successful implementation; success being measured in accidents avoided and lives saved. Leonard points to the 3,000 vehicle pilot performed in Ann Arbor, Michigan that provided a proof-point that the technology can work in the real-world. Still, this testing just scratches the surface in terms of understanding how the technology works at scale.

Thus, the next tranche of testing is a two-phase, Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program, that will be larger scale and will continue to 2020. It has parallels to the FCC’s Rural Broadband Experiments program in the sense that multiple organizations are submitting proposals and the DOT has a pool of money that will be award to an estimated 2 to 5 groups with the proposals that will give the best return. The awards are expected to be between $2 to $20M. This testing will occur in parallel with the commercial roll out of DSRC, as, at least one manufacturer, Cadillac, is planning on introducing this technology in the 2017 model year.

The potential benefit of DSRC goes beyond safety and includes a range of application categories according to the DOT’s website:

  • Agency data (e.g. road maintenance)
  • Environment (e.g. eco-traffic signal timing)
  • Mobility (e.g. dynamic ridesharing)
  • Road Weather (motorist advisories)
  • Smart Roadside (wireless inspection)

Leonard is excited about the new applications that DSRC potentially will enable. Similarly, he explains that the DOT is supportive of the greater use of WiFi and is open to proposals that would share the spectrum between WiFi and DSRC.

Still, Leonard reminds that reliability and latency are critical for V2V to be effective and to save lives and that stakeholders should keep that as the priority.

“We need to make sure that this portion of the spectrum that is used for life saving technologies and life saving communications, that, if there is additional uses of that WiFi that they don’t interfere with the safety messages of cars talking to each other.”

He indicates the DOT is working across the government, as well as industry, to reconcile this need for more broadband with the need for reliable V2V and V2I communications. He is optimistic that there is a tremendous opportunity and synergy between the once disparate automotive and communications industries.

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