A bill introduced to the Senate last week could open up the band of wireless communication airwaves currently reserved for vehicle-to-vehicle communications designed to improve road safety to other Wi-Fi devices.
To date, car manufacturers have had exclusive access to the 5.9 GHz wireless spectrum band to test and develop “connected car” technologies allowing vehicles to communicate with other vehicles on the road, but the Senate bill, introduced by Sen Marco Rubio, is part of a broader legislative push to expand wireless broadband access to meet the growing connectivity needs of businesses and consumers.
The Senate bill seeks to grant Wi-Fi devices such as smartphones or businesses with wireless hot spots access to the 5.9 GHz wireless spectrum. It would order the Federal Communications Commission to test the feasibility of opening the spectrum to nonautomotive users and seek comments about the move.
However, the auto industry is concerned that opening the connected car spectrum to non-automotive users could create interference in vehicle-to-vehicle communications and put safety improvements at risk and wants to ensure that connected cars can coexist on the same wireless spectrum with other consumers and businesses, before any changes to the legislation are made.
The Association of Global Automakers, a trade group representing foreign automakers including Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan and others, issued a statement expressing “concern” that opening up the spectrum band to so-called unlicensed users is “putting at risk the opportunity to save thousands of lives through the development of vehicle-to-vehicle communications.”
John Bozzella, CEO of Global Automakers, said in a statement that “the lifesaving benefits of V2V communications are within reach. Given what’s at stake, an ill-informed decision on this spectrum is a gamble.”
In a statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing companies including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota, said while it does not object to sharing the spectrum, “we’ve long advocated that legislators and regulators must take a ‘do no harm’ approach and ensure that there is no harmful interference to the dedicated short range communications that allow vehicles to communicate with each other and infrastructure.”
The Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a connected car advocacy group, said in a statement that work is already underway to study whether non-automotive Wi-Fi devices can safely operate on the 5.9 GHz spectrum used for connected car testing, and that the process should continue “without arbitrary deadlines, restrictive parameters or political pressure that could influence the outcome.”
In its statement, ITS America quoted testimony from a Department of Transportation official expressing “serious concern” about spectrum sharing that may interfere with connected car communications designed to improve road safety.