Madden: DSRC and LTE-V will split the market

car (pixabay)
Joe Madden Industry Voices

The auto industry has been developing 802.11p technology for V2V communications over the past decade—and preparing for the U.S. Department of Transportation to make a ruling, which has been widely expected to require the use of DSRC (802.11p) in production automobiles sold in the USA.  

Mr. Trump’s election win seems to have changed the process a bit. The Department of Transportation has been ready to push forward with the mandate, but the Federal Communications Commission raised some questions about possible extension of Wi-Fi and other unlicensed wireless into the UNII-4 band. At the same time, the mobile industry has been lobbying to use LTE for vehicle-to-vehicle communications instead of DSRC. In an ideal world, the FCC would rule on questions regarding changes in standards as well as potential interfering services before a mandate is finalized. The FCC requested public comments in July with regard to new interoperability testing between DSRC systems and unlicensed wireless systems with “listen before talk” capability. The proposed joint testing between FCC/DoT/NTIA testing includes three new test phases which (by my estimate) would require about a year to complete.

However, the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is stepping down, and basically nothing is happening at the FCC. Both FCC and DoT now are likely to change leadership, so policy questions are up in the air. To jump ahead of the controversy, the DoT last month announced that they’re starting the 90-day comment period for their ruling on the mandate.

No matter what, the U.S. DoT ruling will happen after the new administration takes office. The Obama administration has simply lined everything up so that a mandate can be implemented in the March timeframe. The strong American automotive lobby supports DSRC, so we think a DSRC mandate is likely for American cars during the next 6 months.

Meanwhile in Europe, a new consortium including multiple German automakers and mobile industry players has been formed to push LTE-V technology.  Audi, BMW, Daimler, and Rolls-Royce are all involved along with Vodafone, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Nokia, and Qualcomm.  The political clout of this group is likely to outweigh the success of DSRC in Japan and the USA, at least for the European market. We don’t expect fast decisions, but over time the outcome appears likely to be LTE-V in Europe.

Recently I had a chance to ask Ford, GM, Honda, and Toyota about their points of view. Engineers working for each company had the same comments:  they’ve been testing DSRC for 10 years and they would not like to scrap it all, to re-test everything using LTE-V. Either technology will work, and the auto companies don’t really care about the wireless format as much as simply getting something on the market.

Mobile Experts recently released a comprehensive analysis of telematics and automotive V2X communications. We anticipate growth to more than 600 million automotive IoT device shipments per year by 2021. This is one of the most promising markets for actual IoT revenue—but regulatory uncertainty and market fragmentation are slamming the brakes on the connected car.

Joe Madden is Principal Analyst at Mobile Experts LLC, a network of market and technology experts that analyze wireless markets. The team provides detailed research on Small Cell, Base Station, Carrier Wi-Fi, and IoT markets. Mr. Madden currently focuses on trends in 5G, IoT, and Enterprise markets for wireless infrastructure. Over 26 years in mobile communications, he accurately predicted the rise of Digital Predistortion, Remote Radio Heads, Small Cells, and the rise of a Mobile IT market. He validates his ideas with mobile and cable operators, as well as semiconductor suppliers to find the match between business models and technology. Mr. Madden holds a Physics degree from UCLA. Despite learning about economics at Stanford, he still obeys the laws of physics.