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Setback for truck platooning as clock starts on Wi-Fi rule

‘Dangerous decision’ made by FCC to move ahead with reallocating part of V2X safety band for unlicensed users, transportation research group warns

Caption: FCC final rule affects truck platooning. (Photo: Peloton)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving ahead with a Trump-era decision to reallocate wireless bandwidth set aside for vehicle safety despite warnings from trucking companies and technology experts that the move could affect the deployment and costs of truck platooning.

A final rule issued Friday for public inspection is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday and sets a July 2 effective date for the FCC’s decision. The rule repurposes the lower 45 megahertz of the 5.850-5.925 GHz band, which had been reserved for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, to instead address growing demand for unlicensed public Wi-Fi. The rule was approved by the FCC in December.

After the Biden administration took control in January, however, transportation industry groups had been urging lawmakers and the administration to reconsider the proposal before issuing a final rule.

In a letter sent ahead of a congressional hearing on mobility this week, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), which has had safety concerns about the change since it was proposed several years ago, asked the Senate Commerce Committee to wield its authority over the FCC and require the agency to hold off on the rule. ITS America was unsuccessful.

“In light of the increase in fatalities on American roadways last year, the [FCC] made a dangerous decision to give away a majority of the 5.9 GHz spectrum previously reserved for transportation safety,” ITS America warned following Friday’s final rule. The FCC, the group stated, “has failed to show that it will ensure that spectrum is usable by protecting it from harmful interference. [ITS America] has repeatedly said this decision will jeopardize public safety, as have nearly all other transportation safety experts.”

The group noted that in addition to providing economic savings by reducing the more than $830 billion in annual costs associated with vehicle crashes, V2X technology “is uniquely capable of reducing traffic congestion through prioritized traffic signal timing, truck platooning and crash reduction, reducing travel time and delays for commuters and commerce alike.”

Regarding truck platooning, less available spectrum to work with could slow down progress and be costly for a type of autonomous operation that relies on V2X.

“With short-range commercial truck platooning where trucks follow close behind each other, reaction time is incredibly important. When the lead truck steps on the brake, the following truck has seconds to react,” truck platooning expert Alberto Lacaze, co-founder and president of Robotic Research, told FreightWaves in November.

“If the spectrum space gets too crowded, interference is more likely, and it becomes less usable. Many commercial vendors have spent a lot of money and effort working in those frequencies, and they will be able to reconfigure — but at a cost.”

One of those vendors — Volvo Group (OTC: VLVLY) — had urged the FCC not to proceed with the rulemaking until it could be proved that introducing unlicensed Wi-Fi users would not compromise V2X operations.

Thomas Jensen, vice president of transportation policy for UPS (NYSE: UPS), told the FCC that the company is exploring truck platooning and that it can improve fuel economy by as much as 10%. “Cutting the allocation in the 5.9 GHz band by 60% inevitably will have a detrimental impact on the adoption of these platforms,” Jensen said in comments filed with the agency last year.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.