Qualcomm kicks off road trials of C-V2X amid US spectrum controversy

Qualcomm is conducting a series of road trials of its new Cellular-V2X solutions, in partnership with AT&T, Nokia, and Ford. The group, representing three key links in the V2X (vehicle-to-anything) chain, will be testing in San Diego, with support from the Californian government, and will also 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.

The current testing set-up centers around Qualcomm’s new 9150 C-V2X silicon, which is communicating with Nokia base stations and MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing) infrastructure 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 auto maker involved.

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

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

The decision not to mandate V2V is good news for cable and telecoms companies, which were the staunchest opponents of the idea because they wanted to see the DSRC frequencies added to the pot for mobile and WiFi networks.

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. If the FCC continues to side with the lobbyists, it seems likely that the DSRC band will be legislated out of existence – with that spectrum auctioned off to operators.

That would mean that other countries using the FCC regulations would end up potentially defaulting to using licensed LTE spectrum for V2V communications, as using unlicensed 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz bands for mission critical safety communications has obvious risks from the levels of interference from WiFi and Bluetooth devices in congested areas.

If MNOs are to siphon off the DSRC band in the US, they will need 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 DSRC/802.11p, might help solve a lot of the initial issues.

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 is a clear need to reduce accidents on these grounds.

The testing group hope that their stack can help in this regard, and the road tests are important to proving the safety and effectiveness of the system. Once cities and regulators are on board, the auto makers and network operators can begin selling into these greenfield ecosystems.

“The advancement of cellular technology for C-V2X applications is very encouraging,” said Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services at Ford. “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.”