The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision in April to grant a joint waiver request to deploy cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X) technology in the upper 20 MHz part of the 5.9 GHz band has been welcomed by the ITS industry pretty much across the board. The move means it will now be easier to roll out C-V2X, which allows vehicles to communicate with one another and with road infrastructure.
The news broke at the ITS America 2023 Conference & Expo in Grapevine, Texas, where ITS International talked to two very interested parties. “It precipitates safe systems,” explains Jim Misener, Qualcomm Technologies global V2X ecosystem lead. “Finally, there'll be the ability for the joint waiver applicants to put into service their devices - and that's from car companies, to roadside infrastructure owner-operators, anyone who wants to operate with these rules that the FCC has given us. So that means safety starts to happen on American roadways sooner rather than later.”
It marks a turning point in the move to use connected vehicle technology to reverse the US’s rising tide of fatalities. “We've got a really serious public health crisis on our roadways: technology can help,” says Andres Castrillon, director, government affairs at Qualcomm. “But up until this point, we haven't actually been able to deploy C-V2X to help address that concern. This is the first step in doing so. This is a really important milestone on the road towards broad-scale deployment, coast to coast.”
It is just the first of many waivers that are likely to be passed or approved by the FCC, Castrillon points out. The industry collaborated on the joint waiver request, proposing specific technical parameters. “So what the FCC has done by granting this first one - which all the others pointed to – is to provide a path forward for them to move expeditiously with all of those,” he adds. “So we've got the spectrum issue addressed - at least in the near term.”
What’s now needed is for the US Department of Transportation to “really step forward and utilise its authorities as a convener, to work collaboratively with industry - public and private sector - on a path forward for deployment”.
V2X has involved a chicken-and-egg dilemma for a long time, Castrillon continues. “What the infrastructure folks have said is: ‘We want to deploy but we want some assurances that the vehicles are going to be there to communicate with in the future’; the vehicle folks have said the same thing: ‘We want to deploy, but we want to make sure that the infrastructure is there’. So if we work collaboratively on a national deployment plan, then both sides of that dynamic have some assurances that they make the investments and step up and invest in the technology, and there's going to be an ecosystem out there in order to deploy different use cases and to be able to communicate with other devices.”
Misener suggests: “Think about it as a virtuous circle: both sides have to complete their part of the circle. But this [decision] allows this to happen.”
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) adds another dimension to the decision. “There is a historic amount of money – funding - potentially available for this too,” Misener says. “So it comes at a very good juncture for the FCC - not only to be a champion, but also to precipitate change themselves.”
The fact that the IIJA was a bipartisan affair may have made a difference to a general sense that now is the time for things to happen on V2X. “I think it has helped, it has added a little bit more wind at our back, because we have this historic opportunity to utilise this once-in-a-generation funding opportunity,” agrees Castrillon. “We've got this unique window of opportunity to utilise that money to modernise our infrastructure and to deploy these types of technologies. If not now, then when? IIJA funding is over the next five years: we’ve got a window - it will close. So we need to move forward with deployments now, utilise some of that money as a catalyst for deployment.”
It’s about safety, Misener says: “If you just look at the joint waiver applicants, the list that it grew to, you will see all sectors: basically, a coalition of the willing…You’ve got ready, willing, and able infrastructure owner-operators, and that starts it all.”
There is no doubt that change is required. In the US at present there are around 40,000 deaths on the road each year, along with hundreds of thousands of injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that this will drop significantly with the widespread introduction of V2X technology. “Well, I wish I had a crystal ball,” Misener smiles. “But the potential as outlined by NHTSA circa six or seven years ago, is that this would address - these are carefully chosen words - 80% of the multi-vehicle, unimpaired crash types.”
So for collisions involving vehicles – and pedestrians – at intersections, for example, V2X will be a real life-saver. “Now, will those crashes be addressed fully?” he asks. “That depends on penetration, so [we] can't predict that - but the potential is huge. And as this ball starts to roll, more and more we will realise that potential.”
V2X deployment is currently voluntary, and penetration is difficult to put a number on. “But this is one reason we talked about the circle - this chicken-and-egg conundrum is hard to resolve,” Misener says. “But think about if you put a car out there, it has to have something to talk to on Day One. It doesn't have to talk to every bit of road, but maybe the most dangerous bit somewhere.”
Both men are very positive about the FCC decision. “I think what we struggled with for a long time is a lack of collaboration between the different agencies that have jurisdiction over this,” Castrillon acknowledges. “It is a unique technology because it's collaborative: we need spectrum - so it's the FCC; we want to deploy it on roadway infrastructure and in vehicles – so it's Department of Transportation; and then there are some other agencies that [also] have equities. I think what we've seen, over the last year, is really improved levels of collaboration, and a renewed commitment from all involved to say: ‘We’ve got to figure this out’. You'll see overwhelming support from all corners of the ITS industry that historically haven't been aligned - some wanted DSRC, some wanted to do something else. But over the last year the entire industry - state DoTs, federal agencies, and the private sector - are really aligned behind the need to deploy C-V2X now.”
They are all “finally marching towards the same goal, pushing forward with deployments”.
“It is a harmonic convergence,” Misener laughs. “But there are so many independent factors that affected it.” From which technology to settle on, to how to distribute the remaining spectrum, the fact that C-V2X technology has properties that are favoured by automotive OEMs – it’s hard to put a definitive finger on the question: why now?
Same song sheet
“We've never had this level of consensus from industry,” Castrillon says. “And so it's much easier if you're a policymaker to get behind something if the industry that's coming in to talk to you about it is singing from the same song sheet. If you're constantly hearing different messages from industry - which is what we struggled with in this issue for a long time - it's really difficult to get behind and endorse something. I think the industry alignment has paved the way for government to really get behind this, to put the past controversy behind us and say: ‘We, as government, need to reflect that alignment and support them in their efforts to deploy’. In my mind, that's the biggest thing that's changed.”
Device manufacturers will be delighted, as will state DoTs who want to make future investments to improve road safety. Those companies and organisations which applied for the joint waiver can now deploy if they want to, and a host of ‘me too’ waiver applications using the same technical parameters are expected. The floodgates are open.
“That will also embolden car OEMs,” says Misener. “Because they think they don't want to put a device on a car that has modest or meagre utility.”
There will be a transition from where we are now to broad-scale deployment in “10-12 years”, predicts Castrillon. “This decision allows these near-term deployments to move forward tomorrow, next week, the following weeks, and start to showcase the benefits of this technology. There's a whole host of folks that we've talked to that are in ‘wait and see’ mode, and they wanted to see this initial action to make sure that the FCC was actually going to allow deployments to move forward.”
This is one of the technologies that really needs everyone working on a common basis in order for it to succeed, Misener concludes: “I'm a scientist, not an astrologer, but I would say the stars are aligning.”