Smart Cars or More Bars: FCC vs. V2V in Battle for Airspace

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In an effort to respond to growing needs for increased Wi-Fi access, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might throw automakers' plans for vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication under the bus.


The FCC wants to open a large portion of a new radio-frequency spectrum and unanimously voted to clear 195 megahertz of additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band (a 35 percent increase) and make it available to unlicensed wireless devices. The problem is that a decade ago the FCC agreed to set aside this spectrum to serve as the platform for connected vehicle technology. Now they are changing their minds as the V2V system nears fruition. Currently, almost 3,000 cars, trucks, and transit buses are testing technologies that allow vehicles to connect to each other and to the infrastructure around them.


There is a potential risk associated with introducing a substantial number of unlicensed devices close to the 5.9GHz band used by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. The use of similar frequencies could compromise the integrity of vehicle-to vehicle (V2V) accident-prevention technology systems. Michael Cammisa, Global Automakers’ Director of Safety commented, “While we do not oppose efforts to expand Wi-Fi, we are concerned about the potential for interference if these other devices are also using the same spectrum.”


In the 1980s the FCC opened access to the unlicensed spectrum for the first time. At that time, most of the devices taking advantage of the open airwaves were cordless phones, baby monitors and garage-door openers. Now there is an overwhelming demand for internet access to be available to almost everyone almost everywhere and the draw is weighing heavily on the current system. “As this spectrum comes on line, we expect it to relieve congested Wi-Fi networks at major hubs like convention centers and airports,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.


In the past year the total of American mobile-enabled devices to rose to 424 million and is expected to grow to 775 million wirelessly connected devices in use in America by 2017. Mobile data traffic in the U.S. increased 62% to 207 petabytes per month which is equivalent to sending 570 million text messages each second. In the next 5 years that number is expected to multiply ninefold. The FCC sees the need to act now. They feel the move to expand the spectrum for unlicensed devices would open "significant additional spectrum to accelerate the growth and expansion of new Wi-Fi technology that can offer faster speeds of one gigabit per second or more, increase overall capacity, and reduce congestion at Wi-Fi hot spots."


The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ISTA) said in a statement, “We support efforts to identify spectrum that may be utilized to expand Wi-Fi applications, but with over 30,000 deaths on our nation’s roads every year, we also believe it is critical that efforts to open up additional spectrum do not come at the expense of revolutionary lifesaving technologies.”


 “Automakers are expending significant resources and effort to develop V2V safety technologies because of the potential to significantly reduce automobile crash fatalities, injuries, and congestion on our highways,” added Global Automakers’ Cammisa. “There is no room for error when it comes to motor vehicle safety and we want to make sure that the FCC initiative will not interfere with the anticipated benefits that V2V communication systems could deliver.”


“We don’t oppose spectrum sharing,” ITSA president and CEO Scott Belcher told Wired. “There is a shortage in this country. Our position is, between the private and public sectors, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in connected vehicles. Opening the spectrum to unlicensed usage is a change,” he says. “We’re at a point where [connected cars are] finally about to become real.”


Belcher explains the group's position, "It is imperative that, as we move forward, we do adequate research and testing on potential interference issues that could arise from opening up this band to unlicensed users and that the commission not rush to judgment before this important analysis can be done."


“The last thing the V2V initiative needs is a cloud being cast from potential interference from unlicensed use of the same spectrum,” Roger Lanctot, an automotive electronics analyst with Strategy Analytics, told MSN Autos. “The NHTSA-driven effort is already up against [automakers'] resistance to adding cost and weight and the even bigger barrier of chicken-and egg-deployment, along with the lack of a business model.”


Cammisa states, “Global Automakers and our members are committed to working with the FCC and other stakeholders to evaluate the effect of spectrum sharing proposals on V2V safety performance.”


"It is important that we get started on resolving these issues right away. The sooner we solve these issues, the sooner American innovation can show leadership in developing this band for unlicensed services," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said.


Basically it all boils down to what American consumers want: safer roads or wider access to Wi-Fi. The FCC’s decision to open the spectrum won't be final until next year.


Image courtesy of chainat at FreeDigitalPhotos


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