Qualcomm gets C-V2X road test ball rolling, Trump lends a hand

Qualcomm is hoping that a series of road trials will prove the worth of its new Cellular-V2X technologies, in partnership with AT&T, Nokia, and Ford. The group, representing each level of the V2X chain, will be testing in San Diego, with support from the Californian government, and will be working with McCain – a provider of Intelligent Transportation Solutions (ITS).

However, the announcement comes just as the Trump administration has abandoned plans to create a mandatory requirement for V2V technologies inside new cars in the US – as the Republicans continue to dismantle legislation initiated by the Democrats under Obama. This is a double-edged sword for Qualcomm’s approach, which favors the cellular network approach, instead of something like 802.11p – which is essentially V2V WiFi.

With initial tests due to commence later this year, Qualcomm is looking to boost the demand for its C-V2X, a Vehicle-to-X (V2X) communication protocol that will use cellular networks to travel between vehicles and things like street infrastructure and other cars. A 3GPP standard, a core component is the ability to form direct links V2V, without needing the cellular networks – a feature that will use the 5.9GHz band in the FCC regulations.

Currently, that band is dedicated for Direct Short Range Communication (DSRC), the 75MHz channel that has been reserved for automakers has become coveted by WiFi and LTE advocates – who argue that the frequency could be better put to use for their technologies, rather than DSRC technologies that they argue have yet to come to fruition.

The decision not to mandate V2V is good news for cable and telecoms companies, who were the staunchest opponents of the idea. This was due to the proposal to use that 5.9GHz DSRC band for the technologies, which the aforementioned conglomerates would rather was auctioned off as extra capacity for their mobile and WiFi networks. Lobbyists appear to have won out here, and this looks like it will go down as a poor result for US road safety.

Apparently, there will now be no final ruling on the requirement, which the DoT estimated could reduce collisions by 80% and improve traffic system efficiency. For Qualcomm, killing off support for that DSRC band would come as a blow to the initial C-V2X implementation, which plans on using the 5.9GHz band to link vehicles.

However, in the long term, if the FCC continues its track record of siding with the biggest business lobbyists, it seems likely that the DSRC band will be legislated out of existence – with that spectrum auctioned off to the MNOs, telcos, and cablecos, with the biggest wallets.

This would mean that all countries using the FCC regulations would end up likely defaulting to using licensed LTE spectrum for V2V communications, as using unlicensed 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz bands for mission-critical safety communications does not sound good on paper – due to the huge level of potential interference from WiFi and Bluetooth devices, as well as other ISM applications.

So there’s a decision to be made among the MNOs if they’re going to siphon off the DSRC FCC band – how are they going to ensure seamless instantaneous communication among all parties on the road? Sticking with the DSRC band, even if they use LTE-based technologies instead of something like 802.11p, might help solve a lot of the initial headaches – but in terms of timelines, they’re going to be getting rather busy with initial 5G implementations by the time these questions become really pressing.

The Trump camp’s decision comes at a time when traffic deaths in the US are actually increasing, after falling steadily for decades. Some 37,641 people were killed on US roads last year, with many pointing to distracted driving as the cause of the upswing. The rise is at odds with the improved safety record and capabilities of modern vehicles, and there’s a clear need to reduce accidents on these grounds.

The testing group hope that their stack can help in this regard, as well as generate them a tidy profit – and the road tests are important to proving the safety and effectiveness of the system. Once cities and regulators are on board, the automakers and networking types can begin selling into these greenfield ecosystems.

The current testing setup centers around Qualcomm’s new 9150 C-V2X silicon, which is communicating with Nokia base stations and ‘multi-access edge computing technology,’ running on AT&T’s LTE network and ITS platform. McCain will be managing the integration with existing traffic signals control infrastructure, and Ford will be providing its vehicles as the testing platform.

In terms of local organizations, the City of Chula Vista is on board, as part of the San Diego Association Regional Proving Ground (SANDAG). Caltrans, the Californian DoT, rounds out the public side of the public-private partnerships, and so far, Ford is the only automaker on board. Notably, none of the huge array of suppliers has signed up (publicly, at least).

The advancement of cellular technology for C-V2X applications is very encouraging,” said Don Butler, executive director, connected vehicle and services, Ford Motor Company. “This technology promises to meet, and in some cases, exceed the performance requirements of vehicle communication being proposed by relevant government agencies while leveraging existing in-vehicle connectivity frameworks. C-V2X provides a reassuring path to technology advancements necessary to support emerging developments in autonomy, automated driving, and mobility. We are keen to investigate all aspects of this opportunity and support cross industry efforts that make that possible.”

Leveraging the evolution of embedded cellular technologies for V2X communications holds great potential to advance safety benefits to all road users,” said Cameron Coursey, VP of AT&T Internet of Things Solutions. “Working with industry leaders, such as Ford, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies, and state and local government agencies, we will together lead the way to safer, more secure, cost-effective, and efficient next-generation solutions.”