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Need to analyse risks of 5.9GHz spectrum sharing

First publishedin ITS International
January February 2013
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Belcher: NTIA report
Belcher: NTIA report on the potential use of up to 195 megahertz of spectrum in the 5GHz band expressed concern about the potential risks

Scott Belcher of ITS America explains why moves towards spectrum sharing in the 5.9GHz band should not be allowed to proceed until further analysis of the risks to road safety has been undertaken.

The ability to move people and goods safely and efficiently has always had a direct impact on a country’s economic advantage and its  citizens’ quality of life. It is estimated that by  2050, the number of vehicles around the  world is set to double to two billion, placing  enormous demands on the global transportation infrastructure and on the networks designed to support them.
In the United States, the future of a safe, efficient and convenient transportation network increasingly depends on the use of informa­tion and communications technologies.

Last month at the World Economic Forum’s 2013 annual meet­ing in Davos, leaders from around the world gathered to collaborate and discuss activities shaping global, regional and industry agendas. Part of this year’s conversation focused on how connected vehicle technology and other intelligent transportation systems (ITS) will forever transform mobility.

In fact, vehicle connectivity is likely to bring about more change in the automotive industry and the driving experience than perhaps we have seen since Henry Ford first mass-produced the Model T.

Today we stand on the cusp of the next stage in roadway safety and mobility. The evolution of a modern transportation network in which vehicles can communicate in real time with each other and with the world around them is key to keeping people safe and our economy moving.

Connected vehicles

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT), in coordination with major automakers and other public and private sector inno­vators, has been working to advance vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications technology to help prevent traffic crashes before they happen. USDOT estimates that this connected vehicle network could potentially address 80% of all crash scenarios involving non-impaired drivers, saving thousands of lives each year while also providing significant mobility, environmen­tal and economic benefits.

In August 2012, the USDOT-sponsored Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot was launched in Ann Arbor, MI, in which nearly 3000 cars, trucks and transit buses have been equipped with Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) radio devices to collect V2V and V2I performance data. This data will be used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to inform a poten­tial regulatory decision in late 2013 for new light-duty vehicles, and in 2014 for new heavy-duty vehicles. That decision will be a major milestone in the broad scale implementation of V2V and V2I com­munications systems in the United States.
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US Connected Vehicle  Research Program
Back in 1999, the FCC allocated the 5.9GHz band for ITS safety applications based on DSRC and it has served as the platform for the US Connected Vehicle Research Program ever since
While momentum is building toward connected vehicle implementation, parallel efforts by US policymakers to open up more spectrum for Wi-Fi applications threatens to undermine the entire connected vehicle program – potentially flushing years of research and development and hundreds of millions of taxpayer and private sector dollars down the drain.

In 1996, the USDOT, its agency partners and ITS America completed the first National ITS Architecture.

Recognizing that V2V and V2I communications would make the transportation system safer, smarter and more efficient, the National Architecture identified DSRC as a critical element in the deployment of new ITS applications.

In order to prevent vehicle crashes, connected vehicles would rely on DSRC to support high-speed, secure and reliable wireless com­munications among moving vehicles and between vehicles, roadside infrastructure and mobile devices.

The following year, ITS America petitioned the Federal Commu­nications Commission (FCC) to allocate seventy-five megahertz (MHz) of spectrum in the 5850-5925 MHz (5.9 GHz) band for ITS. As the result, the FCC in 1999 allocated the 5.9GHz band for ITS safety applications based on DSRC, and this has served as the platform for the US Connected Vehicle Research Program.

In an effort to continue to support ITS deployment, the FCC further established licensing and service rules in 2003 for the DSRC service in the 5.9GHz band. USDOT committed to leveraging DSRC networks as the foundation and future of connected vehicle technolo­gies and many of the ITS services that are planned or already in use rely upon them.

Key, however, to the deployment of this life-saving communications system is the assurance that dedicated spectrum in the 5.9GHz band will remain free from harmful interference.
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FCC allocated the  5.9GHz band for ITS safety applications

Spectrum crunch

As a result of the proliferation of new Wi-Fi products and services, with even greater Wi-Fi applications on the horizon, policymakers in the US have begun looking in earnest at areas of underutilized spec­trum that could be opened up to help alleviate the looming spectrum shortage.

As part of this effort, the US Congress last year passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which among other things directed the National Telecommunications and Information Admin­istration (NTIA) to examine the potential for spectrum sharing in the 5.4GHz and 5.9GHz bands. The law asked NTIA to evaluate “known and proposed spectrum-sharing technologies” and the potential risks if unlicensed devices are permitted to operate in that band.

On January 25 this year, the NTIA issued its initial report on the potential use of up to 195 megahertz of spectrum in the 5GHz band by Unlicensed-National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices. The report expressed concern about the potential risks associated with introducing a substantial number of new, unlicensed devices into the 5.9GHz band without proper safeguards and agreed with concerns expressed by ITS America and our partners that further analysis is needed to determine whether and how the multiple risk factors could be mitigated.

FCC announcement

While the NTIA laid out a two-year process for testing and evaluating the potential risks associated with spectrum sharing in the 5.9GHz band, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski announced – prior to the release of NTIA’s conclusions – that the FCC intends to open up 195 MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz band to unlicensed users.

Raising additional concerns is that instead of waiting for the NTIA evaluation process to take place, the FCC has announced that it plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the 5GHz band at its next open meeting scheduled for late February.

While conversations with the FCC, NTIA, USDOT and other policymakers are ongoing, ITS America is asking FCC officials to allow for due diligence by ensuring that any timelines contained in a proposed rulemaking relating to the 5.9GHz band are consistent with the NTIA schedule for completing its quantitative evaluation and issuing final recommendations.

Furthermore, ITS America is requesting the FCC’s action does not precede a decision by USDOT regarding implementation of a connected vehicle network.

ITS America’s membership spans a broad cross-section of the transportation and technology communities and we understand and support efforts to identify spectrum that may be utilized to ease the predicted spectrum shortage and expand Wi-Fi applications.

Nevertheless, with over 30,000 preventable deaths on our na­tion’s roads every year, it is critical that efforts to free up additional spectrum do not come at the expense of life-saving technologies.

  • Scott F Belcher is president and CEO of the Intelligent Transpor­tation Society of America. Follow him on Twitter @scottbelcher3 and join the conversation @ITS_America.

Companies in this article

Federal Communications Commission
ITS America
US Department of Transportation

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CommentAdded ByTimeReport
This article doesn't consider the risks of NOT opening up that spectrum for unlicenced use. When 2.4ghz was opened up, it spawned the greatest period of innovation in the history of radio. People did not see what was coming. Planned spectrum is 20th century thinking and we should know that by now. The opening up of this spectrum will be a godsend for the ITS community. More spectrum will be available for all applications, including connected vehicle ones. The hardware will become common in just a few years, and be available at super-cheap consumer electronics prices. DSRC with all its "safety critical" over-regulation would not have started coming out until late in this decade and would not have reached usable penetration until 2030, by which time it would have been long obsolete. What many don't seem to realize is that the effectiveness of V2V tech goes with the square of the penetration. A service which is deployed in most smartphones but fails 20% of the time due to interference or latency is many times better and more reliable than a 100% "reliable" service deployed in just 30% (ie. 75 million) cars. Finally, useful connected technologies will be realized.Brad Templeton07/03/2013 01:16:05