Ford’s move could shift the conversation around the 5.9 GHz spectrum allocation
Ford Motor Company has confirmed that it will use cellular vehicle-to-everything technology in all new U.S. models by 2022, in a break with automakers who favor the use of Dedicated Short-Range Communications.
In a blog entry, Don Butler, Ford’s executive director for its connected vehicle platform and products, said that the company’s C-V2X plans “[build]on our prior commitment to equip every model we release in the United States with conventional cellular connectivity by the end of 2019.” C-V2X will work with the Ford Co-Pilot360 offering of driver-assist and safety features on new passenger cars, SUVs and trucks going forward, he added. Such driver assistance features and future autonomous vehicles rely on on-board sensors, Butler noted, and called C-V2X a “complement” to those systems. He described C-V2X as “planned alongside the rapidly building 5G cellular network.”
“Our hope is that this would spur others to potentially reassess and, in other cases, decide on this direction,” Butler said in an interview with Bloomberg. “We’ve been looking at DSRC for a number of years along with Toyota, GM and Honda, so this is not a step that we take lightly in the sense of dismissing DSRC. But we think this is the right step to make given where we see the technology headed.”
Ford’s move is a break with fellow automotive OEMs including Toyota and GM on the use of 802.11-based DSRC, which has been long-anticipated but very limited in actual deployment. The Federal Communications Communications Commission set aside 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band (5.850-5.925 GHz) in 1999 to be used for vehicle-related safety and mobility systems. The technology was on the verge of being mandated in the final months of the Obama administration — but such a mandate has made it no further under the Trump administration.
Given the lack of current use by DSRC and the progress of technologies including GPS, lidar, radar and cellular for driver assistance and connectivity, the FCC has been mulling how to make the best use of the 5.9 GHz band. Two FCC commissioners have advocated taking a new look at the 5.9 GHz spectrum allocation. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has acknowledged that the federal bet on DSRC “didn’t pan out the way we thought it would” and has said that the FCC should “take a fresh look” at the spectrum. In a blog entry last year, Commission Michael O’Rielly said that the commission is “in the midst of determining the best mechanism to bring spectrum sharing to the 5.9 GHz band.” The FCC has conducted testing on the feasibility of spectrum-sharing for DSRC and Wi-Fi, which operates in the adjacent 6 GHz band.
Automakers are loathe to lose that spectrum allocation for intelligent vehicle communications, however. In a recent comment to the Federal Communications Commission opposing unlicensed use at 5.9 GHz, GM noted that it deployed DSRC in its 2017 Cadillac CTS and that the company announced in June of last year that it would build on-board DSRC units for a “high-volume Cadillac crossover beginning in 2023, and expand the deployment to all Cadillac models thereafter.” Toyota, meanwhile, has begun implementing the technology in Japan and announced last April that U.S. models of its Toyota-brand and Lexus vehicles will be equipped with DSRC beginning in the 2021 model year. Toyota also last year opened up a large-scale pilot project to its employees in Michigan to voluntarily have DSRC systems installed in their vehicles, taking advantage of tens of millions of dollars of investment by the U.S. Department of Transportation in a model DSRC deployment project in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In his blog entry, Butler called out the need for a friendly regulatory environment, as well as momentum for a C-V2X ecosystem, in order for the technology to actually make it to widespread deployment.
“A conducive regulatory environment must be in place for C-V2X to be deployed, which is why we are working just as much with industry and government organizations to create such a technology-neutral environment,” Butler wrote. “This technology will only live up to its full potential if many vehicles on the road as well as roadside infrastructure take advantage of it. That’s why we are inviting other automakers, infrastructure and road operators, as well as government agencies to work with us to accelerate momentum for C-V2X.
“Billions of dollars already are being spent as the cellular industry builds 5G networks, so we think the timing is perfect to give our vehicles some of the natural skills we use every day to get around,” Butler wrote.
On the technical merits of DSRC vs. C-V2X, carriers such as AT&T have been politely noncommittal. Some head-to-head testing has emerged from Qualcomm, which has dabbled in both technologies and whose 9150 C-V2X chipset is in play to support C-V2X deployments. According to a presentation by Qualcomm to the 5G Automotive Association from last September, Ford and Qualcomm tested the comparable performance of C-V2X and DSRC in lab and field tests in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where Toyota is also running a large-scale trial with its local workforce) and in San Diego, California. That testing concluded that C-V2X, by and large, has a more extensive range than DSRC and outperforms the technology in a number of scenarios ranging from varying received power to “shadowing” scenarios testing the effect of a stationary vehicle obstructing V2V messages between two passing vehicles, as well as in robustness in the face of simulated co-channel interference.