By on October 21, 2018

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.

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15 Comments on “Right of the Dial: FCC May Open Automotive Safety Radio Frequency for Telecom Use...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    “Automakers inability to populate their portion of the bandwidth in a timely manner is likely what’s doing them in now.”

    no, their lobbyists just aren’t nearly as buddy-buddy with Ajit Pai, like his good friends at all of the telecom/ISP companies. the guy is bought and paid for by the industry.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      It would be extremely difficult for me to refute that claim.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      So the automakers actually *are* clamoring to use this spectrum for its intended purpose? What exactly has been stopping them, then? In reality, the intended purpose is just not needed.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      JimZ, the 75 MHz wide chunk of spectrum allocated to DSRC has been sitting mostly unused for 19 years so far. Ajit Pai was a 26 year old recent college graduate when automakers first had access to DSRC.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Meh, better than the previous tools of big tech we’ve had in that position for whom net neutrality was a boon. I’d love it if I could sick up all the bandwidth I could use with 4k streaming and have the law bar the entity that owns the pipe from charging me more.

      Me in 1996 – 20 bucks for 2 hours a month of AOL at Max 56k

      Me at the dawn of Net Neutrality – 70ish a month for all the bandwidth I could use at I believe 25 mb/sec

      Me today 90 a month for full gihlg up and down.

      Boy those telecoms have been screwing me. Not really.

      • 0 avatar
        TheTruthAboutRob

        Art, you would do well to remember that your own experience does not encompass the entire domestic telecom industry. For examples of telecoms screwing people, you could research:
        1. the widespread disappearance of pay phones
        2. AT&T’s current form as a resurrection “Ma Bell” and how it came to be
        3. the recent history of broadband data caps, aside from cell networks
        4. how telecoms responded to Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of relevant infrastructure
        5. telecoms’ reluctance to maintain relevant infrastructure generally
        6. Verizon’s decision to stop expanding FiOS
        7. telecoms’ refusal to overhaul the public switched telephone network’s architecture with regard to security, such that the myriad phone scams would either be impossible or easily addressed

        Of course, only the first point relates to people below the middle class. I should also add an aggregate point that the first five points have made it more difficult for poor people to utilize telecom infrastructure.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Rob,rare for me to just side with a corporation, but the decision to stop expanding FIOS has nothing to do with trying to screw you. With 5G on the horizon, it no longer makes business sense to install fiber. You will get better speeds and lower cost without Verizon having to spend a fortune to dig up the streets and install miles of fiber.

          • 0 avatar
            TheTruthAboutRob

            My point regarding Verizon’s decision to end FiOS expansion relates to my point about telecoms’ reluctance (I was being kind with that choice of word) to pay for infrastructure. For an example of why a cell phone network cannot fully replace hard lines, research the relevant consequences of Hurricane Sandy: at least one telecom lied blatantly enough for the New York attorney general to get involved.

            To be fair, most government entities do not want to pay to maintain infrastructure: most of what the country depends on was built when the government received more tax revenue and more people had money to spend.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Well, the telcoms might be annoyed that the automakers are getting bandwidth they are not using, but we should be grateful…at least Sinclair Broadcasting is not involved. If it did, all cars connected would make right turns only.

  • avatar

    History repeats itself. Back in CB days, very early on, the idea was a 22 channel CB with old channel 23 as an emergency channel…in every car. (This also explains the two channel gap between 22 and 23, that would have been a guard band for the not very selective receivers of the era). Car makers balked at the expense of the radios at the time….and that proposal never came to light as anticipated.

    The car makers have the same problem that electronic payments have in the US. There are several competing systems, but we still have worse money transfer costs than, say, Africa, because everyone thinks the whole world should use their system…so they can rent-seek forever…

    FCC also has a history of missing the market. UHF tv was supposed to be what eventually became cable tv…and channels were still reserved long, long after it was clear that they’d never be populated.

    Hams have to fight to keep their bands…they lost part of the 1.25 meter band because UPS wanted dispatch frequencies for their trucks.

    The FCC now is involved in a crazy scheme to pay TV broadcasters to move channels to ‘re pack’ so that they can sell off channels 36-83…to cell companies. Pai is a tool of industry…but the FCC has historically been useless at best and a problem at worst.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      speedlaw, the “crazy scheme” to reallocate television channels 37-51 was reasonably successful in collecting money from T-Mobile, US Cellular, and some smaller cellular companies and using that money to pay television stations to go off the air or move to a different channel. T-Mobile is already using the 600 MHz band to add cellular coverage in rural areas today. https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1zuAfHMO6JK3TWS_54Tf5TbuyggWTC-pO&hl=en_US&ll=39.19323227245162%2C-96.43474075&z=4

      I agree regarding the 220-222. Not that desirable for mobile communications even when it was reallocated and it’s been mostly unused ever since. I’m a ham that uses the 1.25 m band.

  • avatar
    Dale Houston

    Thanks for making a reference to The Replacements, my all-time favorite rock band.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    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.

  • avatar
    operagost

    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.


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