Qualcomm Is Waiting On FCC Rules To Deploy C-V2X Vehicle Chips – SVP Technology Policy

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San Diego chip giant Qualcomm Incorporated's plans to target the connected vehicles market received a big boost earlier this month when FCC Chairman Commissioner Ajit Pai released a draft rulemaking to allocate certain segments of the 5.9GHz spectrum to Cellular Vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technologies. Qualcomm has been busy testing its C-V2X products for quite a while now, and the technology is set to replace the older Dedicated Short Range Communications standard once the FCC finalizes its rules.

At this front, we got a chance to sit down with Qualcomm's senior vice president of spectrum strategy and technology policy Mr. Dean Brenner at the start of this week. Mr. Brenner is responsible for heading his company's efforts to convince the FCC about the merits of moving forward with the 5.9GHz and ensuring that the access that C-V2X is granted is sufficient to advance the technology and to ensure that future connected vehicles do not interfere with WiFi or unlicensed use of the spectrum.

Prior to the ruling, the debate for the 5.9GHz spectrum has primarily been polarized between two segments – supporters of C-V2X and those of WiFi. Right now, the parties differ on the interference protection rules that WiFi U-NII-4 (5.850-5925GHz) devices would have to adhere to for protecting C-V2X users. While U-NII-4 also includes 25Mhz above the 5.9GHz spectrum, FCC's draft ruling limits WiFi use up to 5.895GHz only. WiFi devices using 125MHz below 5.850GHz are referred to as U-NII-3, and supporters of WiFi insist that given their close proximity with U-NII-4, both categories should use similar out-of-band emissions requirements.

Supporters of C-V2X, including Qualcomm, insist that U-NII-3 rules are insufficient for interference protection, with the 5G Automotive Alliance also having submitted testing results to the FCC to make this case. Our talk with Dean ranged on all these issues, Qualcomm's preparedness for C-V2X rollout and the current state of the industry.

More here: Qualcomm Set To Dominate U.S. Connected Vehicles (C-V2X) Market 

Qualcomm Incorporated's Senior Vice President for Spectrum Strategy and Technology Dean Brenner.

To start, I'd like you to provide a brief overview of what C-V2X is and what the platform means for the future of automobiles in the United States? 

Dean: "Sure, so C-V2X is an advanced wireless technology that uses cellular technologies, the same type of technology that we use to speak over cellphone but instead speaking from one connecting..one phone to another or connecting a phone to the internet, it’s connecting two cars or its connecting a car with a vehicle infrastructure like a traffic light, a stop sign stuff like that. And the virtue, why we want to do that well there are all sorts of situations where I would like to be able to you know if I’m going around a curve, if I’m driving at night, if I’m driving down an alley, I’m driving during a rainstorm I would like to alert you if we’re on the same road, I would like to alert you and Claudine [interview host] let’s say the three of us are on the same road I’d like to make sure my car tells your cars, hey, I’m here, I’m coming, I’m going to make a left turn and conversely, I would like to communications from your cars so that you know I know what you’re doing in real-time. Or when we’re at a traffic light, it would be great to know in advance when it’s going to go from red to green or from green to red. And there, so there are all sorts of situations where having this advanced wireless communications capability using the very great connectivity that we all use every day in our phones having that type of connectivity in our cars has you know profound applications to make driving much more safer. So the first focus of C-V2X technology is to improve safety on roads and highways for drivers, for the vehicles themselves and even for pedestrians."

How well is Qualcomm competitively placed to benefit from the FCC opening up the 5.9GHz spectrum for C-V2X? In other words, what significant advantages does the company bring to the table that are unique to Qualcomm?

Dean: "Sure. Thanks for that question. Thanks very much. For Qualcomm, Qualcomm is the world’s leading supplier of chips for smartphones, for tablets, for wireless devices, and we also supply chips to cars. That’s one business we have. And the second business that Qualcomm has is that we invent wireless technology, we patent our inventions and then we license the patents to many many companies all over the world who actually make equipment that uses our patented technology. So Qualcomm stands to benefit from the deployment of C-V2X technology, both because of we will be supplying chips to….that will go into cars our chips will probably be supplied to vendors who themselves put equipment around our chips and their equipment like telematics boxes would then go into a car, our chips would also go into roadside units, remember I mentioned that C-V2X technology can be used on roadway infrastructure on things like traffic lights, signs and the like. And our chips would go into that equipment also. And we would normally supply our chips to a company that would then make equipment that then would be sold to the roadway offering. And finally, Qualcomm would stand to benefit that we are one of the main developers of C-V2X technology so when C-V2X is deployed into cars, roadway infrastructure and other units so we stand to benefit there as well.

Qualcomm as a company, we are ready to go with C-V2X, with have the chips for C-V2X already developed. Those chips are already thoroughly tested and ready to go so we’re excited by the FCC ruling here. The FCC ruling right now is only a draft and so we’ll wait to see, we have some changes that we would like to see made and many other stakeholders in the FCC process likewise are seeking various changes but by and large, this is a fantastic development for Qualcomm and you know, provided that the changes are one we would like to get access to the spectrum for C-V2X absolutely as quickly as possible and not have any further waiting for A, and B we want to make sure there are sufficient protections in the FCC rules to make sure that there’s no harmful interference. So assuming those two issues are taken care of in the final FCC ruling, this will be a tremendously positive development for Qualcomm."

Assuming that Commissioner Pai opened the spectrum today, how soon will Qualcomm’s products be available to automakers? 

Dean: "Yeah so just to correct one thing in your question it’s not solely up to Chairman Pai, it’s up o the commissioners on the FCC. He’s only one of five FCC commissioners and they'll be taking the vote on the draft ruling at the upcoming November 18th meeting. So I just wanted to clarify that information. We again, we have the chip for C-V2X ready to go. We’re already supplying chips that will be used in C-V2X for C-V2X in cars that will be deployed for example in China in late 2020, early 2021. So I mean there’s a lot of additional work that does have to take place before, once the spectrum is available and before the cars will actually be rolling out in the United States on a commercial basis. But none of that is really work on our and we have great partners in the ecosystem. A company like Ford is committed to deploying C-V2X in all their cars starting in 2022. And so we’re you know ready to go as soon as we get the FCC decision and with the two caveats that I mentioned earlier."

What level of enthusiasm is present in the automotive industry for Qualcomm’s C-V2X products, especially when it comes to opening up the 5.9GHz spectrum for C-V2X?

Dean: "So I think there’s tremendous enthusiasm. As I mentioned I really think that Ford is one of the major major automobile manufacturers in the United States historically and still to this day they’re very enthusiastic in their support for C-V2X and very public about the fact that they are strong supporters of C-V2X. So I mean there is tremendous enthusiasm. You know Qualcomm is, we’re always the upstart. We never accept things the way they are, we always try to advance the technology to something new. So you know there are varying auto manufacturers with different views on C-V2X as opposed to the older more primitive DSRC technology which has been around since the late 1990s but still has not been deployed. There is growing ecosystem support not just in the United States but all our the world for C-V2X and there’s no question that this FCC ruling once it comes out and again with the caveats that I mentioned are all taken care of, it’s going to generate tremendous enthusiasm in the auto industry for C-V2X."

A prototype C-V2X platform. Image is taken from Qualcomm's March 2020 presentation for C-V2X.

Qualcomm’s 9150 chip was tested in Hawaii in partnership with Applied Information. Can you elaborate on the test results? Which areas performed beyond expectations? Which met expectations, and which need further improvement? More importantly, was interference with U-NII-4 and unlicensed operations also on the agenda for these tests? If so, what did the results imply?

Dean: "Sure, so I can’t comment specifically on one set of tests, but the 5G automotive Association which is you know the trade association of companies that are promoting and developing C-V2X they published results of numerous tests in C-V2X. And the tests have uniformly shown two things. First, they showed C-V2X dramatically outperforms DSRC in terms of range and reliability.

So let me explain why that is so important. So remember I said the focus of C-V2X is for safety. So having a better radio in your car translates directly into safety benefits. So for example, if my car can communicate with your cars around the curve, down an alley, at night in the area beyond, you can see my car. All of that translates directly into safety. So in the testing that we’ve done we compared C-V2X with DSRC, we’ve shown that C-V2X outperforms DSRC in terms of both range and reliability. And in all the scenarios I just mentioned having greater range, longer range, and having a greater degree of reliability translates directly into enhancing that.

In terms of the interference scenario, we presented the findings to the FCC, and based on those findings we’ve asked the FCC for certain levels of protection to make sure if WiFi is operating in the newly created U-NII-4 band then it doesn’t cause harmful interference to C-V2X. And we haven’t just said oh there might be a problem. We’ve gone back to the FCC we’ve said here’s what the testing shows and here are the levels, here are the protections that you should adopt for C-V2X, which if you adopt them our testing shows there won’t be a problem.

So that is what presented to the FCC and we’re hopeful that the final FCC decision here reflects the technical testing work that we’ve already done."

What implications do you believe will be for C-V2X’s commercial rollout should the Commission retain the 10MHz block (5895-5905MHz) of the spectrum for DSRC? More specifically, in addition to the potential impact on the commercial rollout, will this also affect the American competitive edge globally for the rollout of connected vehicles?

Dean: "Okay, thanks very much for that question. Let me explain. The FCC draft ruling does not reserve 10MHz for DSRC. The FCC ruling instead allocates all 30MHz in the upper portion of the 5.9GHz band for C-V2X it doesn’t reserve any spectrum for DSRC. That was a proposal that the FCC was considering and they asked for comment and they concluded that it would be more beneficial to allocate the 10MHz along with the other 20 for C-V2X. I should point out no one in the DSRC community actually asked for that 10Mhz. There isn’t any company that has any interest in using only 10MHz for DSRC so we don’t really need to worry about what implications would be if the FCC were to do that because in the draft ruling the FCC wouldn’t do that, instead they would allocate all 30MHz for C-V2X. We totally agree with that given not only that no one from the DSRC asked for that 10MHz and also we agree with that because we wanted that 10MHz for C-V2X and we apparently made a good enough case to convince the FCC that it was the appropriate thing to do in the public interest."

If the FCC in its rules determines that U-NII-4 devices are required to adhere to U-NII-3 OOBE (out of band emission) limits, what will Qualcomm's response be to mitigate interference concerns especially after the 5GAA’s interference test results have shown U-NII-4 interference with C-V2X? Will such a decision by the Commission cause the company to change its C-V2X products?

Dean: "So I mean I’d rather not get into hypothetical questions, but you know we have made a very convincing, very powerful case to the FCC about what the protections are that are necessary to protect C-V2X from interference from WiFi. So what we’re concentrating on between now and the FCC meeting is trying to ensure that the FCC adopts those protections.

If in fact, the FCC doesn’t adopt those protections that isn’t the end of the FCC process. So this FCC ruling is not the final word.  So the at the FCC there’s a process of reconsideration so if a party looks at an FCC ruling and has information that would show the ruling is contrary to the public interest there’s a process at the FCC where you’re able to go back and provide additional information to the FCC and ask them to reconsider to change the rule. So, you know, before we get ahead of ourselves, I don’t even want to get into that process. We have little over two weeks here to try to convince the FCC to change the draft ruling to ensure greater protection for C-V2X for interference, so that’s what our focus is right now."