Sept. 8 — U.S. car companies say they are on the cusp of rolling out life-saving wireless technology as soon as 2016 that will allow vehicles and transportation infrastructure to “talk” to each other.
But the Federal Communications Commission first gave vehicle manufacturers and their supply chain companies dedicated spectrum for that purpose more than a decade ago. And now, Google Inc., Microsoft Inc. and major Wi-Fi interests are saying that they can deliver similar results with different technology over the Internet and bring a host of other benefits to market, including high-speed Wi-Fi—if the FCC opens up the automakers' spectrum to unlicensed use.
General Motors Co. has promised to bring out 2017 model Cadillacs next year featuring vehicle-to-vehicle technology that enables the car to communicate with other connected cars to warn of collision hazards, improve road safety and make high-speed, hands-free driving technology available. Other automakers are aiming to introduce cars that park themselves or navigate traffic jams.
But while automotive manufacturers are concentrating on details of a technology that has to be flawless when brought to market, they have got another problem—Wi-Fi and technology companies that want to move into carmakers' prime spectrum real estate. Google has promised fully automated vehicles by 2020.
While efforts to test the feasibility of spectrum sharing between the Wi-Fi and the automotive industries has been stalled until recently, a pair of bills in the House and Senate, coupled with strong lobbying and the general acknowledgement that sharing may be inevitable is propelling stakeholders to find a solution among themselves. With industry groups moving forward, the Department of Transportation and the FCC have let engineers take the wheel on the issue, while they wait for actionable data on which to build a new regulatory regime to address both industries' interests.
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The Department of Transportation has ramped up its efforts in recent months to promote widespread use of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, known as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC). For example, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced in May that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) planned to send a proposed rule that would require V2V equipment on all new cars and light trucks to the White House Office of Management and Budget by the end of this year, instead of in 2016 as the agency originally projected.
“The Department wants to speed the nation toward an era when vehicle safety isn't just about surviving crashes; it's about avoiding them,” Foxx said in a May 13 statement. “Connected, automated vehicles that can sense the environment around them and communicate with other vehicles and with infrastructure have the potential to revolutionize road safety and save thousands of lives.”
The DOT estimates that V2V technology, like vehicle sensors and technology that could warn drivers of impending collisions, combined with vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems could prevent 81 percent of all car crashes involving non-impaired drivers, 83 percent of light vehicle crashes and 72 percent of all heavy truck crashes annually.
In 1999, the FCC set aside spectrum in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for the auto industry to use for V2V, but has since proposed regulations that would open up 195 MHz within that same band for Wi-Fi use. Automakers, which were delayed by regulatory and technical issues, have voiced concerns that new Wi-Fi networks could interfere with their designated spectrum band.
Auto industry groups and the Wi-Fi industry are working together to see whether sharing is possible without Wi-Fi interfering with DSRC's ten-times-a-second signals transmission. For example, Cisco Systems Inc. and Denso Corp., an automotive technology supplier, have reached an agreement to begin testing a spectrum-sharing tool both in laboratory and real world settings.
Barry Einsig, Cisco's global transportation executive, said the company has been doing the “right work,” formulating a test and a test plan for spectrum sharing without having to change the allocation plan for the 5.9 GHz band. But he said there were others in the Wi-Fi community who believed driving connected vehicles out of the band or at least to the upper end of the band and clearing the rest of the spectrum for broadband Wi-Fi was more efficient.
“The challenge with that is, of course, that you throw away 10 years of testing of all of the safety systems,” Einsig told Bloomberg BNA.
“There have been a couple of proposals put forward for spectrum sharing,” Paul Feenstra, interim executive vice president of ITS America, told Bloomberg BNA. “The key is having a production-ready device that can actually be tested in the real world.”
Feenstra added that stakeholders in the auto and tech industries would like to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Cisco met with the FCC Aug. 19 to deliver a status update to senior officials in the Office of Engineering and Technology. The company said it passed a first milestone in “listen-before-talk” protocol testing for Wi-Fi to detect DSRC signals in the 5.9 GHz band, according to an Aug. 21 agency filing.
Major auto trade associations, such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the U.S. Association of Global Automakers and the Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) of America support the Cisco/Danso collaboration.
“They are moving forward with sort of the blessing of the auto industry to begin testing whether or not spectrum sharing can work in the 5.9 GHz band,” Feenstra said.
He said he expects the spectrum-sharing tool developed by Cisco may serve as a model for other projects in the works.
A proposal from Qualcomm Inc. has garnered less industry support, multiple sources said. But Qualcomm is still testing the proposal, Dean Brenner, Qualcomm's senior vice president for government affairs, told Bloomberg BNA.
Both Cisco's and Qualcomm's interests in the 5.9 GHz spectrum span those of the tech, Wi-Fi and automotive industries. But Qualcomm's sharing proposal envisions guarding against interference by spectrum allocation instead of using sharing mechanisms, as with Cisco's plan.
Rather than sharing the entire 75 MHz allocated to DSRC, as Cisco proposed, Qualcomm's proposal would move safety-of-life—such as crash-avoidance technology—DSRC uses to the upper end of the 5.9 GHz band, walling them off from any interference. The lower portion of the band would be opened up to sharing.
“A driving force behind what we want to see in 5.9 [GHz] is for DSRC/vehicle-to-vehicle to move forward quickly,” said Alice Tornquist, Qualcomm's vice president for government affairs. “We're really supportive of what DOT is talking about on moving forward with the vehicle-to-vehicle rulemaking. I think that got lost in the debate about our spectrum proposal,” she said.
The Transportation Department has said it would complete preliminary testing of any spectrum-sharing tools developed by the auto and Wi-Fi industries within 12 months of receiving them. But the department otherwise seems to be taking a back seat when it comes to addressing spectrum access issues.
The DOT does not have the authority to allocate spectrum, but a NHTSA spokesman said the agency has talked to the FCC about the safety benefits of connected infrastructure. “We've had numerous conversations with FCC on the importance of a clear signal for V2V and (vehicle-to-infrastructure) technology that could save thousands of lives.”
At the FCC, little progress has been made since March 2014, when it issued rules to make 100 MHz of spectrum available for outdoor use, such as in stadiums, in the lower 5 GHz band, which is not allocated for DSRC (ET Docket No. 13-49). The FCC hasn't taken additional steps to open up the additional 75 MHz in the upper portion of the band since then, though companies remain active with filings in the docket.
The FCC continues to work with the DOT, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and other stakeholders on the issue, but for now is waiting for industry to take the next step on sharing solutions, an agency spokesman told Bloomberg BNA.
Several FCC commissioners have expressed some frustration with the agency's progress. At an Aug. 6 meeting, Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai called for the proceeding to resume “so that wireless Internet service providers and consumers nationwide can put another 195 MHz spectrum to unlicensed use.”
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told the Senate Commerce Committee during a July 29 hearing that the auto industry's testing of Cisco's proposal was a positive move. But she added that “there are other kinds of tests we can run, because I think there's a way forward here that both delivers vehicle safety and more Wi-Fi.”
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Lawmakers seem comfortable with leaving industry and the agencies to work through the regulatory issues. The House Energy and Commerce Committee noted in a background memorandum for a June 25 hearing on V2V communications and connected roadways that the agencies reported they were working together with the industry on spectrum sharing and expected testing to begin within the next year.
A senior Energy and Commerce Committee aide said lawmakers view the cautious pace of the agencies' and the industries' rollout of V2V as appropriate. It is clear that they want to get the standards right, the aide said. “This rulemaking that NHTSA is doing is just going to be the next piece in getting closer to truly launching vehicle-to-vehicle,” the aide told Bloomberg BNA. “I think right now it's just good old-fashioned congressional oversight and vigilance, making sure we're understanding. Just as there is education going on amongst consumers and companies about what these issues are, there is education going on for our members.”
Even so, lawmakers could use expected reauthorization of highway and transit programs this year as an opportunity to encourage development of V2V technology. A six-year highway bill (H.R. 22) that passed the Senate on July 30 includes a measure that would establish a $30 million competitive grant program to speed the development of “intelligent transportation systems”. Autonomous vehicle communication technologies, V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies are among those systems listed as eligible for the grants.
Under the provision, the Department of Transportation would be required to release a report to Congress within two years, detailing outcomes of grant recipients' projects.
The House is expected to release a multiyear highway and transit bill in September. ITS America has been working with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) about potentially including an innovation-related provision in the House bill.
Lawmakers have also tried to tackle the spectrum-sharing issue head on with bipartisan, bicameral legislation in the form of the Wi-Fi Innovation Act (H.R. 821, S. 424). The legislation would direct the FCC to explore the feasibility and safety of spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band between DSRC and Wi-Fi technology. But if it is found that the technologies can coexist without interference, the bill would require the FCC to set preliminary deadlines for testing and deployment of sharing technologies, and for ensuing regulations.
The legislation has generated a flurry of lobbying activity on its specifics since its reintroduction Feb. 10. Some criticism of the bill has arisen from industry groups warning against efforts to set artificial testing deadlines for highly technical engineering, which automotive groups have warned could put lives at risk if conducted prematurely.
One of the Senate bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has pushed back on such criticism as an “overreaction” and underscored during the Senate Commerce July 29 spectrum hearing that S. 424 is intended to be a “fact-finding” bill.
But one industry analyst, speaking on background, told Bloomberg BNA that the bill's real intention may have been to deliver a kick in the pants to both sides to move forward with voluntary testing.
A senior aide in Booker's office couched the issue in terms of effective government oversight over a valuable resource. “People often make the argument that this is like iPads versus highway safety, but I would argue that there are definitely critical applications for Wi-Fi spectrum and wireless spectrum” in the band as well, such as telehealth applications, the staffer told Bloomberg BNA.
Furthermore, safety-based arguments being made against the bill aren't taking into account all the other applications and uses for the spectrum that ITS companies are planning, said the aide.
Ford Motor Co., GeM and Toyota Motor Corp., among others, have indicated interest in using DSRC spectrum for applications like rental car transactions processing, parking location, toll payments and traffic reports—applications that also are available over the Internet. Companies in the automakers' supply chains are also exploring using the spectrum for non-safety-of-life uses, with LG Electronics Inc. filing patent applications to use DSRC spectrum for parking payments and others looking at potential uses for travel planning and route optimization.
Several Hill staffers indicated that lawmakers are in favor of prioritizing public safety, but auto manufacturers don't need to keep the entire 75 MHz of DSRC spectrum with all the other planned uses for it that are already available through other technology. If an Internet-based connection can achieve the same thing as a single-use technology then it would make sense to consider looking at making that an Internet-based service, the Senate Commerce aide said.
For now, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act is lingering in both the House and the Senate, and it is unclear whether they might pick up the bills again in the fall session. Progress is stymied in part by a lack of information on 5.9 GHz spectrum sharing technical outcomes, multiple Hill sources told Bloomberg BNA. “It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation,” a second senior Energy and Commerce communications aide told Bloomberg BNA. “The committee has asked the agencies to tell lawmakers what's doable in terms of spectrum sharing, but without devices to test both Wi-Fi and ITS traffic in the same band, they're unable to say anything definitively,” the aide said.
Congressional aides seemed to agree that so long as the legislation results in bringing industry groups together to work on actionable standards, the bills will have been a success regardless of whether they are passed or not.
Nor does a lack of movement on the bill prevent the FCC from acting, said Qualcomm's Tornquist. “This process can move forward and the FCC can make a decision about sharing without the Wi-Fi Innovation Act,” said Tornquist. “We don't view it as critical to getting something done in this area.”
The money being spent on the issue underscores the importance of V2V technology and spectrum to dozens of Fortune 500 companies that have invested years and billions of dollars in research and development.
In the second quarter, at least 34 lobbying disclosure forms included activity on the Wi-Fi Innovation Act bills by name. While the issue is just part of telecommunications and automotive companies' and trade groups' much broader lobbying portfolios—with quarterly budgets frequently reaching well more than a million dollars—filings reveal some companies' more concentrated efforts.
In addition to the $1.9 million spent by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on lobbying directly during the quarter, the trade group gave $20,000 to Tim Yehl, LLC in this year's second quarter for lobbying solely on “vehicle safety issues in the context of V2V communications” and revisions of the unrelated Toxic Substances Control Act. Yehl is a former chief of staff to current House Energy and Commerce ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).
The Association of Global Automakers gave $40,000 to Ogilvy Government Relations to represent their interests in the bills, as well as in vehicle security and privacy issues.
Cable and wireless heavyweights Comcast Corp., Sprint Corp., and T-Mobile US Inc. and trade association the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) together gave a total of $330,000 to Putala Strategies, LLC in the second quarter to focus on the bills, as well as on cybersecurity and broader spectrum issues.
AT&T Services, Inc., Cisco, Ford, GM, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Hyundai Motor Co., KIA Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Time Warner Cable Inc., Toyota and a host of trade associations for both sectors also listed V2V or the bills as part of their direct lobbying activities.
The intense lobbying focus on the issue highlights how the nation's views on spectrum use and policy have changed over the years. “Back when the FCC released or provided this spectrum to ITS America, it was not valuable spectrum. Technology has made it incredibly valuable spectrum,” said Scott Belcher, chief executive officer of the Telecommunications Industry Association and former head of ITS America.
With TIA members coming at the issue from both the automotive and technology sides, Belcher cautioned that government agencies shouldn't be allowed to “pick technology winners and losers unless there's a reason to”—and when it does, it should do so as narrowly as possible. “That's probably the right place to be in the 5.9 GHz space,” he said.
The effort to explore coexistence between Wi-Fi and DSRC is a microcosm of the larger policy questions with which Congress is grappling, as it works toward a broader effort on spectrum legislation sometime in fall. The Wi-Fi Innovation Act could be a part of that, but lawmakers have larger issues to deal with, particularly how to incentivize federal agencies to relinquish or share their spectrum with the private sector.
To that end, industry groups would like to see lawmakers step away from what they view as overly prescriptive regulations and instead focus on bringing more spectrum to market.
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“You might come up with a different allocation of spectrum than was determined originally” if policy makers were able to start over with a clean slate, said Craig Wigginton, vice chairman of Deloitte & Touche LLP's telecommunications division. “That's why we're going through so much heartache right now in trying to reband spectrum and free up existing spectrum,” he told Bloomberg BNA.
Industry players and analysts don't expect to see much spectrum dedicated to one industry or use moving forward. “I think it's going to be normal kind of supply and demand dictating how that's going to be used. What do consumers want; what will they pay for; those types of things will mostly drive how the spectrum is deployed,” Wigginton said.
But one Energy and Commerce aide said policies will depend on what spectrum is to be made available. “From both the chairmen's perspectives, there's no one-size-fits-all answer,” the aide said, speaking of committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). “It entirely depends on what you're trying to fit together since not all technologies play well together,” he said.
Policy making over the past decade has increasingly trended away from use-specific spectrum allocation to multi-use policies promoting both licensed and unlicensed uses. “Sharing is going to have to be one of the ways that spectrum policy is for this country going forward in every band,” the Senate Commerce aide said. If different services can exist in the same band, “we need to find technological ways that that can happen more and more,” the aide said.
That is not to say that licensed spectrum sold at auction won't remain the gold standard for the industry or policy makers—that mechanism has proven too valuable a means for companies to acquire property rights to a valuable limited resource, while depositing much-needed funds into federal coffers.
“Licensed, exclusive spectrum for auction will still be a key part of the quiver of tools policy makers use for spectrum. It's going to be in there but there are other arrows, too,” the Senate Commerce aide said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at email@example.com
To see the legislative vehicle for the transportation bill (H.R. 22), go to http://src.bna.com/gc.
To see the House Wi-Fi Innovation Act (H.R. 821), go to http://src.bna.com/gd.
To see the Senate Wi-Fi Innovation Act (S. 424), go to http://src.bna.com/ge.
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