Automated vehicles are a hot topic in Washington, Silicon Valley, Detroit and around the world lately, but one aspect of the bigger picture that doesn’t get as much press is the issue of connected vehicles. While it is true that connectivity is not a prerequisite for automated driving systems (ADS) to operate, robust and reliable connectivity offers the potential to enhance the functionality of an ADS. When a highly automated vehicle (HAV) is equipped with connected vehicle technology, it can reliably predict better routes, “see” (and avoid) collisions miles away, and receive important safety messages from local law enforcement and weather services, saving vehicle occupants time and frustration while ensuring the safest ride possible. Further enhancing the speed and accuracy of connected vehicle technology is of paramount importance in the years ahead as more vehicles equipped with ADS technology are on the road.
Fifteen years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reserved the 5.9 GHz band for vehicle safety applications – specifically, for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), an early variant of Wi-Fi. This unusual step was lauded by the auto industry and safety advocates, who saw this as a step forward for safety even though the technology to enable HAVs was not yet ready. However, DSRC technology has not and cannot advance technically, resulting in relatively lackluster deployment since the band was reserved for the technology. Though DSRC enables select safety applications, C-V2X, or “cellular vehicle-to-everything”, provides a more flexible platform for V2X connectivity as we commercialize HAVs for personal and ride-sharing applications.
C-V2X is a technology with a clear and rapid path forward. This modern tech, which directly connects vehicles to everything, including each other (V2V), to pedestrians (V2P), to infrastructure (V2I), and to the network (V2N), progresses in a way consumers can see and are familiar with from their mobile phone service – from 3G, to LTE/4G, to the next iteration – 5G.
C-V2X promises a host of technical benefits, including:
- Direct communication over longer distances, providing vehicles and drivers with a bigger, more complete picture of the highway environment;
- Improved Non-Line-of-Sight performance, allowing vehicles and drivers to “see” through obstructions and around corners;
- Enhanced reliability, ensuring that critical safety messages reach their intended destination;
- Higher capacity of data, allowing more and higher quality information to reach the driver and vehicle; and
- Superior congestion control in traffic jams and other scenarios in which there is a high volume of vehicles in the same proximity.
State and local departments of transportation may choose to deliver public safety messages to connected vehicles using commercial mobile networks. By leveraging these existing networks, states and localities can realize significant savings of public funds relative to more extensive build-outs of their own dedicated DSRC communications infrastructure (an expense that would ultimately be passed on to taxpayers).
The main argument for DSRC in recent years has been that C-V2X is not yet ready and may in fact be years away, so therefore we should embrace the technology that is ready today. That simply isn’t true – commercial vendors will be ready to equip vehicles with C-V2X starting next year. It would be infeasible to equip all passenger vehicles with DSRC as well as build out sufficient infrastructure across the US to enable DSRC communications in a timeframe before C-V2X is ready.
There is no question that C-V2X has been gaining momentum. The 5G – Automotive Association (of which Daimler/Mercedes-Benz is a member), a relatively new but powerful global trade association of automotive, technology and telecommunications companies, has thrown its full support behind C-V2X. Since its inception in 2016, 5GAA has rapidly grown to over 90 members, many of which are conducting C-V2X trials and tests around the globe.
The only barrier to the deployment of C-V2X lies on the regulatory front: the FCC’s rules still do not allow C-V2X operations in the globally harmonized 5.9 GHz Intelligent Transportation Systems band. However, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is promoting a plan for 5G deployment on which the FCC will vote in late September, and this forward-thinking action is a step in the right direction. The proposal, which removes regulatory barriers to swiftly deploy 5G, rightly focuses not only on large cities but rural and suburban communities as well, and flanks the FCC’s vote in March 2018 to lift some of the outdated barriers threatening deployment of 5G.
Proponents of both DSRC and C-V2X technologies have the same aim – to improve road traffic safety and provide timesaving and convenience benefits to consumers. The realities of deployment feasibility, lower barriers to necessary infrastructure build-out, lower cost and a clear technical pathway forward demonstrate the argument for allowing C-V2X in the 5.9 GHz band so consumers can realize these advantages as soon as possible.
For an opposing view, see this op-ed from Hilary Cain, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy for Toyota.
The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.