The day when the typical commuter will speed through toll booths at 60 miles per hour, nimbly maneuvering through traffic with the aid of radar-based warnings of possible dangers, now is much nearer, thanks to recent actions taken by the Federal Communications Commission.

Specifically, the FCC has recently adopted permanent rules for the location and monitoring service, formerly known as automatic vehicle monitoring, allocated 25 megahertz of spectrum for a proposed new general wireless communications service and has issued a pending proposed rulemaking to allocate 3.2 gigahertz of spectrum for vehicle collision-avoidance radar systems. These actions are part of a larger effort to speed up the development of intelligent transportation systems, or ITS (formerly known primarily as intelligent vehicle-highway systems, or IVHS).

ITS on the horizon

In a nutshell, ITS is a broad concept encompassing a wide range of wireless communications systems, sensor technologies and computerization to vastly improve vehicle safety and enhance the efficiency of the nation’s surface transportation system. ITS itself is not a technology or a service, but rather joins many diverse technologies and applications-many of which require radio spectrum to work.

Each year, approximately 40,000 Americans are killed in automobile accidents, and another 5 million injured. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that lost productivity due to traffic congestion alone is some $100 billion per year-not even including the costs of wasted fuel and pollution. In an effort to reduce these costs, in 1991 Congress passed the IVHS Act, which authorizes funding in research and development through 1997. Hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private funds already have been spent on R&D.

Recent FCC actions

1. Location and Monitoring Service Rules are adopted

In early February of this year, the FCC formally adopted permanent rules for the location and monitoring service to operate in the 902-928 MHz band, which had been operating under interim rules for many years under the name of automatic vehicle monitoring. One basic use of the service is to track the location of vehicles (including stolen vehicles) and engage in two-way communications regarding their status or to provide instructions, through the use of terrestrial-based multilateration radiolocation and wireless communications technologies, all in a single integrated system. (Multilateration technology means several sensors are used to detect the object.) In addition, existing and proposed electronic toll collection systems (whereby a transmitter located on the vehicle emits a unique “account code” when approaching a toll plaza, thereby allowing the vehicle to pass through in a special lane without stopping) and other services also can use the basic technology, generally on a non-multilateration basis.

Licenses for most multilateration systems will be issued on an exclusive basis, without sharing of spectrum between licensees, through auctions (with separate rules for the bidding to be developed later). By contrast, licenses for non-multilateration systems will be issued on a nonexclusive, shared basis. The geographic areas covered by both multilateration and non-multilateration licenses will be based on Rand McNally Inc.’s 47 basic trading areas (plus another four additional major trading area-like regions defined by the FCC).

LMS systems may provide voice communications as well, but these must be related to the location and monitoring functions of the system. Real-time interconnection with the public switched network will only be allowed for emergency situations involving the vehicle or a passenger in the vehicle. Moreover, in such situations, communications may only be made with entities eligible in the public safety or special emergency radio service, or a system dispatch point.

The continued use of the 902-928 MHz band for LMS engendered a great deal of controversy at the FCC. The band also is used by many others, including unlicensed devices under Part 15 of the FCC’s rules, such as alarm systems, baby monitors, cordless telephones, local area networks, automated meter reading, inventory control, and package tracking and shipping control.

The FCC reaffirmed that unlicensed devices may not cause harmful interference to, and must accept interference from, all other users in the band. However, the potential for harmful interference between emerging LMS systems and the ever-growing number of unlicensed devices caused one FCC commissioner to dissent from adopting the rules altogether and another to issue a statement expressing great reservations in voting for it.

In an effort to address these interference concerns, the FCC set forth certain “safe harbors,” wherein the operation of unlicensed devices would not be subject to complaints of harmful interference to multilateration LMS systems, as follows:

1) field disturbance sensors in the 904-909.75 MHz or 919.75-928 MHz sub-bands; or

2) devices that do not employ an outdoor antenna; or

3) devices that do employ an outdoor antenna, if they meet certain directional gain, power and height restrictions.

The FCC also reaffirmed its initial proposal to require all LMS transmitters imported or marketed after April 1, 1996, to be type accepted, which requires submitting significant test data to the FCC before an equipment authorization is issued. If, however, the “transmitting tags” used in certain non- multilateration systems, such as electronic toll collection, meet the requirements of Part 15 governing unlicensed devices, they may be authorized under that part.

Finally, the FCC also established a new home in Part 90 of its rules for such ITS-related services, dubbed the transportation infrastructure radio service, or TIRS (pronounced “tires”), with LMS the first service contained within this new category. This formal step of creating a new subpart within its rules is a further indication of the FCC’s interest and awareness of its indispensable role in successfully developing intelligent transportation systems.

2. 50 megahertz reallocated from federal to private use. In 1993, Congress ordered the Secretary of Commerce to identify 200 megahertz of spectrum to be transferred from federal government use to private use. In partial fulfillment of that mandate, the FCC formally allocated in February 50 megahertz for private use, in the 2390-2400 MHz, 2402-2417 MHz and 4660-4685 MHz bands.

The 2390-2400 MHz band was allocated for unlicensed personal communications service data devices. The 2402-2417 MHz band was kept available for use by Part 15 unlicensed devices.

The 4660-4685 MHz band, however, was allocated for a new general wireless communications service. The FCC’s proposed rules for GWCS would allow flexible use of the spectrum for almost any fixed or mobile service. Examples of such services listed by the FCC include dispatch service, point-to-point microwave, aeronautical audio or visual service, and wireless local loop services. Broadcast services, radiolocation services and satellite services would not be permitted.

Although the proposed rules for GWCS do not specifically include ITS-related applications, the broad discretion proposed to be given to licensees makes it potentially very valuable. Indeed, the FCC has stated that it proposes to provide GWCS licensees “the opportunity to use the spectrum as they find appropriate.”

The FCC has proposed to provide five license blocks for GWCS, of 5 megahertz each. The license areas, like those for the location and monitoring service described above, are proposed to be based on Rand McNally’s 47 BTAs plus another four additional MTA-like areas. However, it is proposed to allow licensees to lease the rights to operate a general wireless communications system within portions of their license area, allowing another party to be licensed in that area, subject to FCC approval. In addition, the FCC has proposed to issue licenses thr
ough auctions, as it anticipates that the principal (though not obligatory) use of this spectrum will be for subscriber-based services-one of the congressionally mandated requirements for issuing licenses by auction.

3. Allocation proposed for vehicle radar systems. In late 1994, in response to a petition filed by General Motors Research Corp., the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to allocate a portion of the largely unused “millimeter wave” frequency bands above 40 GHz for both automobile radar systems designed to help drivers avoid collisions and highway guidance systems, and that also could be used for short-range wireless radio systems that require very high bandwidth or data transfer rates.

Until recently, millimeter wave technology was used only by the military and in scientific applications (for example, as part of the guidance systems for “smart” bombs). Research spearheaded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has led to a decrease in component costs and now the technology appears to have viable commercial applications.

Because of the limited range of millimeter wave systems and the relatively low likelihood for interference, the FCC has proposed to allocate approximately half of the 18 GHz of spectrum available on an unlicensed basis. The FCC has proposed, however, that vehicle radar systems, while operating on an unlicensed basis, be allocated exclusive-use bands, due to the safety nature of such systems and the lack of experience with system-sharing for such technology. The specific bands proposed to be allocated for such systems are 47.2-47.4 GHz, 76-77 GHz, 94.7-95.7 GHz, and 139-140 GHz, for a total of 3.2 gigahertz of spectrum.

Licensed services would be regulated under a new “licensed millimeter wave service.” As with the location and monitoring service, the FCC has proposed to issue licenses through auctions, with service areas defined by the Rand McNally MTAs (plus the four FCC-defined MTA-like areas).

Also similar to LMS, the FCC has proposed that transmitters operating in the LMWS be type accepted prior to importation or marketing. Vehicle radar systems, however, would be considered unlicensed devices under Part 15 of the rules.


The further development of intelligent transportation systems will greatly impact the future of both vehicle design and how drivers interact with the roadway. The FCC has taken significant steps in recent weeks to provide radio spectrum-the critical raw material for any wireless service-for several ITS applications.

Furthermore, the FCC’s establishment of a new transportation infrastructure radio service foretells that much more activity can be expected and that the FCC will continue to play a key role in the development of the ITS industry.

Keith A. Barritt is an attorney who specializes in communications and trademark law with the Washington, D.C., office of Fish & Richardson.


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