Frequencies dedicated for car talk

FCC sets aside bandwidth for future communications


WASHINGTON - Someday your car might warn you of a traffic jam ahead or pay wirelessly for its own gasoline.

That day came a step closer yesterday when the government formally reserved a small section of radio spectrum to support highway safety and "smart" transportation systems.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted licensing rules for using the radio frequencies between 5.850 and 5.925 gigahertz (the "5.9GHz band") for dedicated traffic communications.

A variety of communications over the band will be collectively known as the Dedicated Short-Range Communications system.

Talk to the road

Over that system, cars will one day communicate with each other and the highway, drivers will pay for gasoline or drive-through hamburgers, and public safety agencies will deliver timely safety and driving delay information, advocates say.

"This is an enabling technology that does not have immediate commercial potential," said John Collins of Mobility Technologies, a Pennsylvania company involved in installing intelligent transportation systems.

"However, the idea behind it is to create a high-speed means of communicating between vehicles and between a vehicle and the roadside," Collins said.

Leaders of the fast-expanding intelligent transportation industry hailed the action as comparable to creation of the Internet.

"It's a very important step in the evolution of ITS [intelligent transportation system] technology," said Neil Schuster, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

"Many intelligent transportation technologies are already in development and in use, but to integrate them, you need communication. This will make it possible."

Saving lives, money

Schuster said safety and traffic flow innovations that the technology makes possible will save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

More than 43,000 Americans die in 6 million vehicle accidents each year, and more than $300 million is lost to fuel wasted in congestion, medical costs and other consequences of traffic problems, he said.

"It enables us as a nation to achieve our vision for the future, our vision where people and goods are moving without danger and without delay," Schuster said.

He said he expects many existing intelligent transportation technologies to be drawn to the new communication system and others to be developed around it.

Innovations will range from more information about highway conditions surrounding a driver to futuristic systems in which cars and buses are operated without drivers, he said.

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