Anger as FCC votes to slash 5.9GHz spectrum for transportation safety by over half

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The connected vehicle community in the US reacted angrily today as the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) backed the intentions outlined by its chairman Ajit Pai last month, and voted to give away more than half of the communication spectrum, reserved for the last 20 years for transportation safety, to unlicensed wi-fi.

Specifically, the new band plan designates the lower 45 megahertz (5.850-5.895 GHz) for unlicensed uses and the upper 30 megahertz (5.895-5.925 GHz) for enhanced automobile safety using cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. This also signalled the end of the era of DSRC (dedicated short range communication) which has long been a key part of V2X testing in the USA.

An FCC statement read: “Although the Commission designated DSRC as the technology standard for ITS services over 20 years ago, DSRC has not been meaningfully deployed, and this critical mid-band spectrum has largely been unused for decades. Today’s action therefore begins the transition away from DSRC services – which are incompatible with C-V2X – to hasten the actual deployment of ITS services that will improve automotive safety.

“The new rules also will improve automotive safety by reserving the upper 30 megahertz of the band for Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) services and designating C-V2X as the technology standard for safety-related transportation and vehicular communications.”

ITS America responds

But ITS America president and CEO Shailen Bhatt countered: “Chairman Pai’s statement is incorrect – it is corporate interests that are cheering the reallocation of the safety spectrum away from the public interests. The most vocal opponents of this action are the US Department of Transportation, every single state department of transportation, and myriad of public safety organizations.

“Today’s move will, in effect, likely render the entire band useless for safety. We are evaluating all possible options to preserve public safety and significantly reduce the tragic deaths of nearly 37,000 people who die on our roadways every year.

“Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abandoned public safety by voting to give away a majority of the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum that currently allows life-saving V2X technologies to work without interference.

“ITS America is but one of dozens of transportation safety organizations that have been sounding the alarm about the implications of this action… In a time in which we are rightly focused on following science and data, it is inexplicable that the FCC is wilfully disregarding the advice of experts.”

Alliance for Automotive innovation statement

A response also came quickly from John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators). He released the following statement:

“This decision undeniably impacts road safety and the future of automotive innovation in this country. Not only was most of the 5.9GHz safety spectrum reallocated away from transportation safety, but it also appears that critical issues around harmful interference to V2X operations were not addressed.”

Nevertheless, Bozzella expressed a wish to continue striving for better V2X functionality, working within the new restrictions.

What’s next?

The FCC Report and Order adopts technical rules to enable full-power indoor unlicensed operations in the lower 45 megahertz portion of the band immediately, as well as opportunities for outdoor unlicensed use on a coordinated basis under certain circumstances. Under the new rules, ITS services will be required to vacate the lower 45 megahertz of the band within one year.

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About Author

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs in charge of public agencies around the world as well as chairmen and CEOs of multinational transportation technology corporations. Tom's early career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).