The War over Broadband Spectrums & Street Furniture

The NMA Foundation presents the Car of the Future weekly feature:

Everyone wants something and right now that something is broadband.  The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) wants to mandate Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology in vehicles for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications.  The DOT wants to use Basic Safety Messages (BSM) that allows cars to share information about speed, direction, momentum, etc. But here is the rub, that spectrum for DSRC is the same spectrum that the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) officials say is the best spectrum for Wi-Fi—that magic something that we all use to download whatever whenever we want.

Basically, the NCTA has concerns about the spectrum being used for V2V—how much real estate the 5.9GHz frequency band any mandated V2V technology could section off from other applications.  The NCTA says the 5.9 GHz band is widely recognized as the single best hope to address the current Wi-Fi spectrum deficit.

Can the 5.9 GHz frequency band support both Wi-Fi and V2V communications?  Good Question.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently looking into two different spectrum-sharing scenarios:

Scenario 1:  Detect and Avoid (or Detect and Vacate): this scenario would prevent unlicensed devices from using the entire DSRC spectrum band if any DSRC signals are detected.

Scenario 2: Re-channelization:  This scenario would break up the band into two blocks:

1)    Block 1 would be used for maintaining safety-related communications that would then be unavailable for unlicensed devices.

2)    Block 2 would be for Wi-Fi.

The NCTA dislikes both scenarios.  The Detect and Avoid approach would render the entire 5.9 GHz band unusable for Wi-Fi and would cost the industry between $10 and $20 billion per year in lost use. Re-channelization would be less expensive to the industry but would limit Wi-Fi.

The other problem the NCTA has with the 5.9 GHz spectrum—which federal agency gets to decide how the spectrum will be used.  They believe that the FCC should be the one to decide and not the DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which had originally proposed regulations on how to use the spectrum for V2V communications.

On a different note, CTIA, the national trade group that represents wireless carriers, has lobbied at least 20 state capitals this legislative session for small cell permitting and have asked lawmakers to streamline local permitting for next generation cellular technology. The CTIA says that these densely packed, small sites would lead to even faster downloads for 5th generation cell phones.

In February, a CTIA lobbyist told Washington state lawmakers that the wireless industry wants to deploy a quarter million small cell sites nationwide in the next few years. To do that, the industry will need broad access to publicly-owned property. This means installing small cell tech on street furniture—utility poles, street lights and traffic lights.

This aggressive push is setting up a fight between states and cities who want to maintain their own sense of community. Tacoma, Washington mayor Marilyn Strickland says, “We welcome higher speeds, but at the same time, there has to be some respect for what we want here as a community.”

The Washington state bill would require local governments to allow small cell antennas to be attached to publicly-owned poles and structures that line city streets, unless there was a safety or engineering concern. The bill also would require cities and towns to approve master permits for small attachments within 90 days and would prohibit requirements for aesthetic standards, except in designated historic or themed districts.

This is only for cell phones and Wi-Fi—next up for street furniture will be the additional hardware for connected cities and connected cars.  City street furniture might get pretty crowded. As more and more devices need access to the broadband spectrum—the more clashes we will see between competing devices and competing technologies. Which devices will win? And who decides?

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The NMA Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation.  The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions. 

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If you are interested in learning more about the Car of the Future check out the following NMA resources:

NMA Driving News Feed—Over 50 Car of the Future stories are placed each month in the NMA Driving News—the go-to source for all your driving news information from around the country.

NMA’s Flipboard Magazine called Car of the Future—Over 50 stories are placed each month in this magazine devoted to the Car of the Future.  Stories featured include future car politics, industry news and thought pieces.

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