Right of the Dial: FCC May Open Automotive Safety Radio Frequency for Telecom Use

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
right of the dial fcc may open automotive safety radio frequency for telecom use

The Federal Communications Commission has decided to review how the radio spectrum intended for wireless communications should be divided. While a seemingly normal part of its duties, the reassessment could open up a part of the spectrum that was previously reserved for automotive applications. The super-high 5.9 GHz frequency reserved for cars was deemed important because it would help enable low-power connectivity in remote and high-density areas, allowing for vehicles to more reliably transmit information between each other and the infrastructure. This was framed by the interested parties as essential for helping to develop safe, autonomous driving systems but it could likely also work to aid any data-based services they offer in the future.

Meanwhile, cable companies, the telecom industry, and internet service providers (ISPs) don’t think it’s fair that automakers are getting their own slice of bandwidth when they’re not even using it yet. Carmakers have been working on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure, and dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) for years without much in the way of consumer applications.

Based on the FCC’s previous decision regarding net neutrality, which some automakers supported, telecom and cable companies definitely enjoy what one could conservatively call a strong relationship with the government agency. FCC chairman Ajit Pai, has already moved to open the spectrum for unlicensed usage, meaning various industries would be able to utilize more of the bandwidth without prior approval.

Roger Lanctot, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, recently told Automotive News that the FCC sees mobile data and ISPs taking “a higher priority than protecting spectrum for safety applications.” He continued by noting any “decision the FCC has to make will impact both cellular and DSRC.”

Automakers inability to populate their portion of the bandwidth in a timely manner is likely what’s doing them in now. Spectrum allocation has been taking place since the 1990s, but manufacturers are only just starting to get into developing widespread systems that might actively utilize it.

“At the time of the allocation, we did not have the commercial applications or new radar technologies that can play a key role in improving highway safety and thus saving lives,” Pai said in July. “My hope is that we make a smart decision quickly to allow this spectrum to directly benefit consumers.”

But there’s an issue; DSRC is starting to be implemented in cities across the country. According to regulators, there’s already $38 million worth of connected infrastructure investment planned by 2020 across federal, state and local governments. Those systems could do everything from helping busy city streets self-regulate traffic flow using adaptive traffic lights to allowing the local police to track what your vehicle is doing in any given moment — depending on whether you like the utopian or dystopian angle more.

While the FCC’s decision wouldn’t prohibit DSRC from being utilized on automobiles, it may force vehicles to share bandwidth with cellular networks and the like. The primary concern here is that unfettered access would make those systems less reliable, which is important for something that is supposed to function as a safety net for drivers using advanced tech.

The FCC has announced it will vote to make unlicensed usage of the 6.0 GHz band available, spanning from about 5.9 GHz to 7.1 GHz, for mobile devices, etc, later this month — following some aggressive lobbying on behalf of the Internet & Television Association (NCTA). Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation has said it wants to continue reserving a potion of the spectrum for automotive safety applications.

Join the conversation
2 of 15 comments
  • Thelaine Thelaine on Oct 22, 2018

    Seems like a good idea to allocate bandwidth to those who will use it. However, TDS means it must be the result of a dirty payoff.

  • Operagost Operagost on Oct 22, 2018

    They screwed musicians repeatedly by giving away the wireless mic bands twice, so I guess they figured they'd screw a different industry in favor of telecoms this time.

  • Tassos the announcement is unnecessarily verbose, aka full of it. Most 'justifications" for the shutdown are shameless lies.
  • Jwee I can post images...?????
  • Jwee @Bobby D'OppoThere is no element of the reported plan that involves taking people's carsSeems like you missed the Southpark reference:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tO5sxLapAtsMy comment was humor (or humour if you prefer). The city council is not literally taking people's cars, but seems like they wouldn't mind a drop in car ownership. More cyclists! Less pollution! More public transport! A £70 fine per violation! Surely if they came out and said "we are going to take your car", they would get a very stern letter written to them in the strongest language possible, or perhaps even called a bunch of rotters. I am all for good transport networks, but this is just a terrible plan. Visit Amsterdam, and study how to manage traffic skillfully in a dense, medieval city, with no traffic cameras whatsoever, with first rate public transport, where pedestrians, bikes, boats and cars coexist.
  • Tassos with 170k+ miles, and over 15 years old, this vehicle has had a full life. Maybe it's time for the scrapyard.
  • Analoggrotto Idk, I was chased down by like 3 people and threatened with ban at Costco because I refused to walk around the whole building to use the restroom, opting instead to take a shortcut through the customer service / new members entrance.