Auto Industry Squabbles With FCC, Promises to Use Allocated Bandwidth

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Way back in 1999, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set aside frequencies so automobiles could communicate with surrounding infrastructure. Concepts included traffic monitoring, speed mitigation, data analysis, new opportunities for law enforcement, and improved self-driving capabilities. The industry never made much use of it, focusing instead on more independent autonomous vehicles that wouldn’t need help from the surrounding world, and which could simply communicate with each other (and manufacturer data centers) using existing wireless networks.

Annoyed that automakers had barely touched the bandwidth allocated to them, the FCC suggested handing it over to someone else in 2019. In response, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) promised that if the commission voted to uphold the status quo on the 5.9-GHz band, the automotive sector would install 5 million vehicle-to-everything (V2X) radios on vehicles and roadside infrastructure over the next five years.

“This commitment represents more than 50 times the number of devices on the road today,” AAI President and CEO John Bozzella said in a statement on Thursday. “This commitment by automakers clearly shows that these lifesaving technologies are ready and can be deployed in significant numbers in the next five years.”

“Our commitment sends a clear message,” he continued. “We’re on the cusp of widespread V2X deployment. Vehicle connectivity will play a crucial role in enhancing road safety, bolstering our global competitiveness, and providing considerable economic and societal benefits to the traveling public everywhere.”

According to Bloomberg, Bozzella also issued a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicating the automotive sector was ready to pull the trigger on V2E installations if 5.9-GHz was left alone.

While the industry lobby is trying to sway the commission into playing nice, Pai is broadly viewed as favoring the telecom/cable industry, where he previously worked. This is sometimes conflated with his general aversion to government intervention. “Getting rid of government authority over the Internet is the exact opposite of authoritarianism. Government control is the defining feature of authoritarians, including the one in North Korea,” he said in 2017 after being criticized for opposing Net Neutrality.

In fact, those supporting the cause accused Pai of allowing internet service providers to engage in discriminatory practices and price gouging by giving them preferential treatment. He has repeatedly countered by suggesting tech companies (like Twitter, Google, and Facebook) support Net Neutrality but discriminate against and censor users daily. In the current fight with automakers, the chairman’s position remains polarizing — albeit less so.

From Bloomberg:

Under Pai the FCC in December proposed assigning most of the airwaves in question to Wi-Fi or a newer auto safety system, and relegating the older connected-car technology to a sliver. The change needs another vote to pass the FCC.

The plan is backed by cable companies and others hungry for additional wireless bandwidth and opposed by automakers in addition to both state and federal transportation officials, who argue it will undercut road safety.

The FCC on Thursday will vote on a plan to give Wi-Fi a different, far larger swath of radio spectrum.

On the surface, it seems as though automakers wasted an opportunity and might as well give the band away to someone who’ll use it. But there could be a few practical purposes for leaving things as is. Smart cars required quite a bit more schooling than anticipated; meanwhile, the industry was already shifting towards newer technologies based on cellular systems years before the FCC got fed up. This would allow the industry to better integrate connectivity features into 5G, though not without some hazards.

While the higher peak data speeds and ultra low latency are desirable in themselves, automakers have also found wireless networks to be easier to work with as they try to link connected cars to mobile services. Plenty of tech experts claim 5G will allow for a glut of internet-connected sensors to help vehicles, appliances, home assistants and mobile devices do things we can’t even fathom.

Unfortunately, 5G has become a gigantic security risk. Some of the world’s leading telecom-equipment manufacturers, including Huawei and ZTE, are Chinese companies pushing this technology the hardest — hoping to make it the new global standard. For automakers vying to sell their products in Asia, leaning into 5G is a no-brainer. However, U.S. security agencies have grown concerned that equipment made by these companies could easily be used to funnel back personal or corporate data the authoritarian Chinese government. All business entities operating within its borders are required by law to have political ties to the Chinese Communist Party and Huawei is suspected to have been pressured into spying on foreign entities already. In fact, China legally requires all citizens and organizations actively “support and cooperate in national intelligence work.”

In a worst-case scenario, it was even posited that China could use the equipment to cripple Western telecom systems in an act of war. The Department of Defense has basically told the FCC to stop allowing 5G in the United States. However, the plea has fallen on partially deaf ears.

That said, it might be in everyone’s best interest to give connected vehicles another avenue. It’s not unthinkable that strong restrictions could be placed on 5G (or wireless services in general) someday. And that would really muddle the industry’s plans to launch connected cars. Keeping V2X as an option (even if it’s not a particularly appetizing one) could serve as a backup plan might not be the worst idea. Some automakers have also expressed a commitment to V2X. For example, in 2018 Cadillac announced plans to place the technology in the majority of its vehicles by 2023. Still, like most automakers, Caddy hasn’t said much about the infrastructure side of things, and interest in such mobility programs appears to be on the wane.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Apr 24, 2020

    The airwaves are owned by the public, and licensed as a public trust. (LOL) OK, it's no longer the 60's and cell phone companies bought spectrum. The FCC moved TV broadcasters around to accomodate more Cell Phone, and a bit of public safety. It is a land rush mentality.....even if you don't use them, you have to fight for ownership, as once an incumbent is there, it is very expensive to remove them.... This also isn't the first time that there is a fight over spectrum, only to see time and technology shift first. At one time, there was a plan to install a CB radio in every new car for safety, with channel 23 as the emergency channel, which is why it was two empty channels away from the band in the old 23 channel band plan. Car makers declined because the radios were too expensive to install (still the tube era). 5G is a nice idea, regardless of the spying aspect (so build a factory here, which will only have NSA back doors, what is the problem ??). A traffic system should be seperate if you are trusting it to do things like allow/disallow intersection entry... I doubt we are in any danger anytime soon of this system actually operating. For the end result, see The Fifth Element, where Bruce Willis, as a taxi driver, gets a ticket printed out of his dashboard when he does I can't say I'm going to be the early adopter on this one....not with the current open roadways....

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Apr 24, 2020

    Existing Western-made router equipment has a "digital" port for the NSA built right in. Nudge nudge wink wink. The fuss with Huawei and ZTE over 5G is that they refuse to spy for the US by accommodating the back door routine, not any worries they'd be sending data back to China. It's the usual ploy our beloved Western "governments" use all the time these days - accuse the other side of doing exactly what you're doing already. And then expect the dumb t*rd public to believe you're lily white and the other guys are malevolent demons. It's called propaganda. This ploy works extremely well on Americans, but not much on anyone else not bound up in patriotic folklore and the need to regard everyone else with suspicion. Look at the dopes here who rag on China just becuz. They believe the horse manure like good quiet little proles and then re-broadcast the nonsense. America is a bubble that specializes in navel-gazing and knows nothing about anywhere or anything else. Get a brain. Hey, let's sue China, it's all their fault based on nothing concrete I've read. But it's typical to go off half-cocked. The Brits passed the Huawei 5G gear for use there, and sorry, they're more than smart enough to figure things out. The Germans too. Meanwhile, third world America has a deranged leader who advocates drinking disinfectant and or Clorox to fight off the coronavirus, and then the next day says he didn't say what he did say. Hey, have a quart on me! Make it Drano, the very best vintage. The world laughs its head off nervously at what incredibly stupid thing will happen next. Not that Americans notice the iidiocy - they give the ravings space for "learned" discussion as if it were something worthy of possibly legitimate respect. As if. The world's in bad enough shape without some dolt in charge who knows f all about anything pretending he's a physician. or a nuclear scientist or anything else he's had five minutes briefing on without listening.

  • RobbyG $100k+...for a Jeep. Are they selling these in fantasy land?Twin turbo inline 6 paired to an 8-speed transmission. Yet still only gets 14mpg.Whatever money you think you would save over a V-8 will be spent 2-3x amount fixing these things when they blow up.
  • Alan Well the manufacturers are catching up with stocks. This means shortages of parts is reducing. Stocks are building around the world even Australia and last year had the most vehicles ever sold here.
  • Larry You neglected to mention that the 2024 Atlas has a US Government 5-Star Safety Rating.
  • Alan Why is it that Toyota and Nissan beat their large SUVs (Patrol/300 Series) with an ugly stick and say they are upmarket? Whilst they are beating the vehicles with an ugly stick they reduce the off road ability rather than improve it.As I've stated in previous comments you are far better off waiting for the Patrol to arrive than buy an overpriced vehicle.
  • Alan How many people do you see with a 4x4 running mud tyres? How many people do you see with a 4x4 running massive rims and low profile tyres? How many people have oversize mirrors for towing once in a blue moon? How many 4x4s do you see lifted? How many people care what tyres they run to save fuel? The most comfortable tyres are more or less the most economical.