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Speeches and Presentations

Prepared Keynote Remarks at the International Symposium on Advanced Radio Technologies 2018 Conference

Heidi King, Deputy Administrator

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 | Broomfield, Colo.

Spectrum and Connectivity in Supporting Transportation Safety

It’s my sincere pleasure to join you to speak about spectrum resources that are so important to each of us – and communication technology that is so important to businesses and the economy, to public safety, and to families across the country. The conference is a rare and precious opportunity to work together to think through problems and opportunities together. The work many of you do is critically important to all of us and increasingly important to emerging sectors of the economy.

Administrator David Redl’s keynote address noted the challenges of noise and interference. Coming from the Nation’s capital, I suppose David and I both know a lot about both noise and interference! So I appreciate the time here with you to collaborate and learn from one another, to evaluate the path forward together. 

As David noted, the spectrum is getting crowded. All of us in the room care a great deal about increasing efficient use of this scarce resource, and about the technical innovations that can increase value of the various uses of spectrum. 

I am an economist, not an engineer. Since analyzing the early spectrum auctions in the mid-1990s, I’ve learned to think of spectrum in terms of value. In the early days, value was most likely calculated in terms of revenue potential. 

But of course it’s not that simple – not anymore. A fundamental challenge that we confront is how to assess and compare the value of known/foreseeable technologies against the value of potential or developing technologies

I often think with humility of our efforts to anticipate potential uses when we were forecasting 3G and 4G; we did not envision the important role that smart phones play in how we live and work. That experience taught me – taught all of us, I think – that, with emerging technology, some of the greatest opportunities might be beyond our imagination.

The fact is, until consumers get engaged with a technology, we don’t really know its potential – we won’t know its value.

At the Department of Transportation, and at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, safety is our first priority. That may sound like a sound bite, but for us at NHTSA, it is very real. More than 37,000 friends, neighbors and colleagues are killed in traffic crashes on U.S. roadways every year. That’s why we forecast an enormous value associated with transportation safety uses of spectrum, and why we have such regard for the work of many of the folks in this room.

As you know, surface transportation manufacturers and suppliers – cars, buses and trucks – together with roadway operators, are at the beginning stages of unleashing the benefits of V2X communications. Emerging wireless services and applications are poised to have a huge impact on transportation safety and mobility. 

Emerging V2X applications will demand spectrum, must coexist within limited bandwidth, and must have the coverage and range intended by their designers. The research being discussed and explored at this conference, and by all of you, is of vital importance. 

I’d like to describe to you some of the reasons why the Department of Transportation sees enormous potential value in transportation connectivity: 

Connectivity has the potential to deliver big gains in safety.

Have you ever heard someone recalling the events of a motor vehicle crash say, “The other car just came out of nowhere”? Well, these are exactly the types of crashes that V2V technology can help prevent. 

To be sure, we at NHTSA are very excited about the safety benefits of crash avoidance technologies that use sensors such as radar and cameras. But our industry partners, and our own research, tells us that V2V communications can substantially augment these sensors to provide more accurate crash-prediction capabilities and enhance existing crash avoidance technologies. 

Because V2V does not rely on line-of-sight targeting, it can address crash scenarios that challenge today’s sensors – and indeed prevent those crashes in which "the other car out of nowhere.”   

Preventing vehicle-to-vehicle crashes may be just the beginning.  Some innovators have demonstrated how V2X connectivity can be applied to hand-held devices to enable innovative pedestrian crash avoidance applications. 

Basically, a pedestrian carrying a phone, or a child carrying a special-purpose device (perhaps in the form-factor of a wristwatch) would be sending and receiving basic safety messages, just like vehicles, and the driver and/or the pedestrian could be warned if a dangerous situation was developing — like walking between parked cars into traffic. Pedestrian fatalities and crashes represent a growing portion of the total motor vehicle safety challenge — and NHTSA is excited about this potential for V2X communications.

Simply put, the potential safety benefits of V2V are substantial — and we are pleased that GM began offering safety communications on a vehicle platform last year. And we were pleased to see Toyota’s recent announcement that they will be offering models with connected vehicle communications that use the 5.9 GHz band beginning in 2021.

Connectivity has the potential to deliver valuable gains in mobility.

NHTSA’s “sister” agency, the Federal Highway Administration, has been researching the benefits of V2X communications to help smooth traffic flow and reduce congestion — something I think all of us would like to see happen. Through applications that support more coordinated vehicle movements through signalized corridors, to more precise and up-to-date advisors about traffic incidents and road conditions, FHWA’s research is showing that V2X communications can enhance the free-flow of traffic in congested conditions. And I understand from my FHWA colleagues that there are more than 50 cities across the United States where local DOTs are already using the 5.9 GHz band for transportation applications.


Connectivity can enhance the operations of automated vehicle systems.

As most of you are aware, the auto and technology industries are moving forward rapidly with automated vehicle technology. We are still at the beginning stages of testing, commercialization and deployment. Yet already, the benefits, and in fact the necessity, of V2X communications to support advance automated driving concepts is being demonstrated. 

A prime example of this is vehicle platooning. Whether applied to cars or trucks, platooning relies on V2V communications to coordinate braking and throttle actions, and share other important information between vehicles participating in the platooning convoy. Industry experts and developers tell us that such V2X communications are vital to making the concept work.   And this is just the beginning; other industry researchers have identified how V2X communications might help improve automated vehicle movements at intersections, with merging into complex traffic situations, and even to communicate with pedestrians and bicyclists, enhancing how automated vehicles can share the roadway with others. 

All of these applications will need spectrum to operate properly.

Given the dramatically changing transportation landscape, the value of transportation connectivity is very significant, although it remains to be seen exactly how large. A limited view – a near-term view – would suggest that core V2V safety communications could require just 10 or 20 MHz of bandwidth, but this does not consider the other application segments that I just spoke about including:

  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian messaging;
  • Vehicle-to-infrastructure applications that support enhanced mobility; or
  • Certainly the V2V and V2I communications to support emerging automated vehicle capabilities.

These important and evolving application segments will need additional spectrum.

Basically, we are at a point in time with the rollout of V2X connectivity that is not unlike when Wi-Fi entered the marketplace at 2.4 GHz more than 20 years ago. It would have been impossible to predict the exact applications and services that would develop, or the magnitude of their deployment. Yet develop they did, and the Wi-Fi industry is now looking for more bandwidth and spectrum to serve a market that would have been impossible to predict 20 years ago.   

Just like Wi-Fi growth and development, there is a near certainty that innovative transportation applications designed to leverage V2X’s unique attributes will develop, and they will need spectrum to work effectively.

Further, as many of you know, device-to-device communications technologies themselves are improving and changing at a fast pace — including continued advancements in DSRC as well as emerging C-V2X and even all-new 5G protocols to support high-performance, direct communications between devices.

The market will eventually sort out which of these may be the preferred solution for V2X communications, or even if they might exist side-by-side while supporting varying transportation applications.  The Department of Transportation sees great advantages in having spectrum available to allow these technologies to mature — and, avoiding policies that would force a premature, or less-considered, decision on technologies.

The Department of Transportation recognizes that spectrum is a very valuable and limited resource.

As such, we fully support the FCC’s investigation of sharing the 5.9 GHz spectrum — as long as long as it does not diminish the tremendous value of safety-of-life communications. 

We look forward to continuing to explore the idea of sharing, and are keenly aware that sharing must be thoroughly tested to determine if and how performance will be affected – especially where safety implications exist.

  • USDOT, NTIA, and the FCC collaborated on developing a high-level plan for testing spectrum-sharing technologies.
  • The Plan included three broad phases: 1) laboratory, 2) test-track, and 3) real-world field studies involving proposed devices and sharing solutions.
  • We wish to congratulate the FCC on completing Phase 1 of the Plan that focused on testing prototype devices in a laboratory setting. We understand the Report summarizing those findings will be available soon.
  • As the wireless engineers in this room know better than I, it is important to understand how communication sharing technologies behave in real-world settings – where propagation impacts from local infrastructure, multipath effects, and interference from other wireless devices operating in nearby bands — must be considered.
  • Phases 2 and 3 of the spectrum-sharing test plan will explore solutions under these more realistic conditions — and we look forward to working with the FCC and NTIA in progressing that research. 

Finally, if it is not clear already from my earlier comments about the wisdom of the marketplace, USDOT remains technology-neutral relative to communications protocols that support V2X technology.

  • Our historical research focused on DSRC because that was the only technology available … but we are also working with industry partners to explore the new, emerging cellular V2V (CV2X) capabilities.
  • We are also working with NTIA to better understand leading-edge 5G communications — and to stay involved in related requirements and standards-development activities.

Thank you for participating in this important dialogue, this important work. It is a testament to the value and the promise of connectivity, that we have the opportunity to work together across traditionally distinct and separate sectors. The potential benefits to our communities, our Nation, and our future are immense.