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Wireless spectrum is a precious commodity, which is why the FCC and NAB are butting heads, and automakers and cable operators have the potential to, as well.

Spectrum Spats: Chatty Cars, Busy Broadcast Airwaves

Sarah Reedy
8/19/2014
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It shouldn't come as a surprise that wireless operators view spectrum as a scarce and precious commodity. That's why there's always dissension over who gets it and for what purposes.

The latest spat is between the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , over the FCC's plan to sell wireless operators TV airways to free up the spectrum for 4G LTE next year. (See FCC Could Block Sprint/T-Mobile Spectrum JV.)

The NAB claims the FCC is hurting the business of those stations that don't participate in the auction by reducing their coverage area anyway. The FCC's rule allowing the change would cause viewership to shrink "after the FCC 'repacks' TV stations into a shrunken TV band," the group writes, in a petition for review filed with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

Those stations whose airwaves are sold have the choice of going out of business or moving to another channel that uses fewer airwaves. The NAB estimates it could cost $500 million to repack into a new frequency. The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC did set aside $1.75 billion to cover the broadcasters' expenses for moving their signals, so an increase to the pot could help the two avoid court.


For more on spectrum scarcity and other related issues, see our dedicated 4G/LTE content channel here on Light Reading.


There is the potential for another spectrum spat bubbling in the connected car space, as well. Regulators said this week that vehicle-to-vehicle communications should be required in future cars so they can talk to each other in order to avert collisions. Federal transportation officials suggest that the technology could prevent 592,000 crashes per year and save more than 1,000 lives. (See If These Cars Could Talk and Telefónica: Safety Is Top Connected Car 'App'.)

It's a pretty compelling argument, but the disagreement comes, first of all, over whether the technology – which would add $100 to $200 to the cost of the car – would be mandated; and secondly, over the 5.9GHz spectrum it would use to send data between vehicles.

Technology companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) have joined forces with cable operators Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Charter Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) to push to share more spectrum for WiFi, including in the 5.9GHz band. These companies formed the WifiForward group earlier this year for that reason, but automakers worry that other usage in the band will interfere with their safety goals. (See Rival MSOs, Tech Rivals Unite on WiFi and WiFiForward Presses for 5GHz .)

"More than ever, we need to preserve the space on the spectrum that these safety systems rely on to operate," John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, said in a statement. "There is no better use of this spectrum than to save lives."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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 DwayneBWalburn
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DwayneBWalburn,
User Rank: Light Beer
9/5/2014 | 9:16:47 AM
Re: Chatting cars
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SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/24/2014 | 10:00:33 AM
Re: Chatting cars
That moment of truth is still a farcry. We are talking about an operational demand for such cars in the near future, within a span of 5 years or so, with current speed (and optimum markets). If the networks and spectrum can support the cars now, then we will have to broaden the spectrum and have more digital multiplexing for giving a bandwidth to many customers of the connection in the car.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/24/2014 | 9:57:08 AM
Cost of the car
I don't think the cost of the car would be of any concern because a 200 dollar increase wouldn't hurt anybody. What is of concern that if this is not implemented, we cannot exploit the communication channels properly. What could save lives shouldn't be stopped from being implemented. If companies could see reason from a public poll, then that would be great.
DHagar
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DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/20/2014 | 12:45:39 PM
Re: Chatty Cars
@Phil_Britt, true - if there is a demand that exceeds capacity that will clearly inhibit chatty cars.  It appears that the ongoing demand for airwaves is only to grow.

By the way, I am above the average on cars as well - so we are doing our part to restrain demand!
Phil_Britt
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Phil_Britt,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/20/2014 | 9:50:49 AM
Re: Chatting cars
While "chatty cars" might ultimately be a good concept, how long will it be before there are enough vehicles with these capabilities to have much of an effect on spectrum demand? If too much spectrum is devoted too early, those without the chatty cars lose out, while the reverse is also true.

And there are plenty out there driving older vehicles -- I believe average age is 11 years (yeah, my car and my wife's are above average :) ). 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/20/2014 | 9:33:31 AM
Re: chatty cars
"The bottom line is that consumers don't win if industries lawyer up and go to battle in court. " Truer words are rarely spoken.
DHagar
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DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/19/2014 | 9:35:52 PM
Re: Chatting cars
@SReedy, I am with you.  I think car-to-car communications makes great sense - it may make for more intelligent travel.  In fact, DOT is working with trucking-to-trucking communications in optimal traffic management with the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
SReedy
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SReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/19/2014 | 5:45:40 PM
Re: chatty cars

TIA President Grant Seiffert weighs in: 

"Since the passage of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2012, the FCC has been hard at work solving a long list of issues that have to be addressed before the world's first voluntary incentive auction can occur.  The National Association of Broadcasters' federal court appeal, complaining that member stations viewing areas are being reduced in the FCC-ordered repacking exercise, has the potential to significantly disrupt the FCC's plans, and the wireless industry's ability to access much needed radio spectrum.  The bottom line is that consumers don't win if industries lawyer up and go to battle in court. TIA stands ready to work with all parties to ensure a successful voluntary incentive auction in mid-2015."

SReedy
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SReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/19/2014 | 4:16:59 PM
chatty cars
I think the vehicle-to-vehicle communication sounds pretty cool. Anything that can make driving safer, especially with the advent of infotainment and in-car apps, is a good thing, in my opinion. Glad they're thinking safety first, WiFi second.
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