Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part II

With the possibility of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ruling on DSRC mandates for passenger vehicles coming at the end of the year, the ITS community should have every reason to be hopeful.

But indications that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking to allow public sharing of some of the 5.9 GHz band, which, until now, has been reserved for the automotive industry, has thrown a serious cloud over prospects for imminent rule-making.

And if the NHTSA doesn’t at least seem closer to V2V and V2I mandates after the pilot, interest in and funding for DSRC could dry up, and the whole project might be scrapped.

Years in the making

In 1999, the FCC set aside a 75MHz spectrum in the 5.9GHz band for the auto industry. The idea was to allocate spectrum that could be used for the development of V2V and V2I applications without fear of potential signal interference from non-automotive users.

But, in the intervening years, the automotive Industry has been slow to bring any products to market that employ the spectrum. At the same time, the proliferation of Wi-Fi devices has been putting a growing strain on the existing open spectrum.

Now, the FCC wants to relieve some of that strain by opening up as much new spectrum as possible.

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in January, the U.S. government agency announced that it would be looking to free up as much as 35% more spectrum in the 5.35-5.47 GHz and 5.85-5.925 GHz bands. On Feb. 20, it followed up with a “notice of proposed rulemaking,” seeking comment on the proposal.

Though no timeline has yet been given, the public nature of the announcements suggests that the FCC’s action is extremely likely. (For more on the V2V and V2I standards debate, see Q&A: Building the infrastructure for V2X and V2X telematics: Making V2X mainstream.)

Courting disaster

The timing is potentially disastrous for the ITS community. That’s because the current DSRC test beds, including the Ann Arbor Safety Pilot, were never designed to assess potential complications from signal interference that may accompany an open 5.9 GHz band. In other words, even a successful outcome from Ann Arbor may be meaningless if an open spectrum changes the equation.

Scott Belcher, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a leading ITS advocacy organization, warns: “I’m fully supportive of spectrum sharing, but if the FCC acts without understanding what it’s doing, it could put hundreds of millions of dollars of investment on the part of the government and the auto industry at risk.”

If the FCC has its way, there are two possible outcomes for DSRC-based V2V and V2I. One is that increased use of the bandwidth can be quickly shown to produce no interference for DSRC. The other, more likely, is that new rounds of expensive tests will be needed to answer questions about interference associated with an open band.

“If that were to happen, I don’t know whether it could be sorted out,” Belcher says. “There’s no clarity about whether sharing could happen without posing a risk. It’s not likely that the NHTSA would mandate connected-vehicle technology because it could potentially mandate something that would result in car crashes. And without NHTSA mandating it, the OEMs aren’t going to deploy it for the same reason. So that’s the other end of the spectrum.”

DSRC hard knocks

The FCC’s ruling is just the latest and most public knock against the DSRC community’s mandate-minded strategy for V2V and V2I. “The FCC’s decision suggests a high degree of skepticism at this point at the FCC,” says Roger Lanctot of Strategy Analytics.

One of the main reasons is that V2V and V2I applications can now be achieved with technologies other than DSRC. The LTE Advanced standard is beginning to add proximity sensing, a Wi-Fi-related functionality that could be used for V2V communications.

When Audi unveiled its A3 with 4G LTE connectivity this year, industry watchdogs were quick to predict future applications in V2V communications. Enabled by Qualcomm’s Gobi MDM9215 3G/4G LTE chipset, the A3 gets peak data rates of around 100 megabits per second.

Another charge commonly leveled against the DSRC community is that, by pursuing government mandates, V2V and V2I hopefuls have neglected a market-oriented approach.

“The real problem is that, because it’s not market-driven, there’s no consumer outcry for this technology,” Lanctot says. “There’s no consumer awareness. When you talk about one application, self-driving vehicles, everyone’s going to think of Google. They’re not thinking of DSRC. And if you talk about intersection safety, well, no one’s thinking of anything. They were granted this spectrum over ten years ago, and there’s not a product to show for ten years of development activity.”

Time to rally

Lanctot doesn’t think it’s too late for the DSRC community to rally, but cautions that, for the technology to have a viable future, it is imperative to bring a product to market as quickly as possible.

“I don’t know why they have stuck to their testing regimen and their whole academic-oriented approach,” Lanctot says. “I think it’s cost them time and attention and focus, and here we are more than ten years later, and the average person has no idea what they’re doing and what it means to them. That’s the big problem. Why would a politician get behind this? The politician is like, ‘My constituents have no idea what this is all about.’”

At ITS America, Belcher remains hopeful that the FCC ruling won’t derail the DSRC testing process, which is finally showing researchers how DSRC functions in real-world situations.

“We’re very active in trying to ensure the FCC doesn’t … take action without knowing the impact of what it’s doing,” he says. “The FCC should be issuing a notice of proposed rule-making. And we’ll be representing our stakeholders in filing comments to that, representing our stakeholders in keeping them apprised of meetings and what we’re learning, and spending time on the Hill, as well. I think we’ll spend most of our time now engaged there.”

Greg Nichols is a regular contributor to TU.

Read Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part I.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6,Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, V2V & V2I for Auto Safety USA 2013 on July 9-10 in Novi, MI, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago,Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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