As the partial government shutdown began in late December, the Department of Transportation published a request for comments on how DOT should approach vehicle-to-everything communications. V2X refers to a suite of technologies that could enable everything from hazard warnings to drivers and pedestrians to high-speed automated road trains. That’s significant enough. But DOT’s second question highlights the current high-stakes policy debate among automakers, governments and telecommunications firms over the future of a band of radio spectrum.
Those frequencies, known as the intelligent transportation system (ITS) band, 75 MHz centered around 5.9 GHz (5.850–5.925 GHz), was allocated by the Federal Communications Commission in 1999 for use by dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) systems. In DOT’s request for comments, the second question asks what should become of the 5.9 GHz band.
Why the high stakes?
The growth of the Wi-Fi market and increasing congestion in the existing unlicensed bands has pitted broadband providers and users against leading automakers such as General Motors and Toyota over access to the 5.9 GHz band. This battle reached a fever pitch in the final days of the Obama administration after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a proposal to mandate automakers to install DSRC in new light-duty vehicles for the purpose of providing drivers vehicle-to-vehicle hazard warnings.
Critics of the DSRC mandate, including this author, have highlighted its glaring deficiencies in roadside infrastructure management, cybersecurity, interactions with other safety-critical vehicle systems, and benefit-cost estimations. Numerous autonomous vehicle developers weighed in against NHTSA’s proposed rule, arguing that forcing DSRC on the entire light-duty vehicle fleet threatened the prospective safety gains from their automation technologies — which have the potential to actually intervene in hazardous situations, rather than merely warning human drivers of those hazards’ existence as contemplated by NHTSA.
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; V2V Communications, A Proposed Rule by the NHTSA, 12 Feb 2017