It took over 20 years for the automobile to begin showing its dominance in transportation with the best-selling Model T. Even when the Model T saw its production end in 1927, the infrastructure and ecosystem for the car were still very much nascent. Today, as we look at autonomous vehicles and connected roadways, the promise of their dominance is coming even faster. That has meant the communications ecosystem that enables vehicles, roadways, travelers, and traffic management centers to communicate with one another safely and in real-time has seen rapid growth. The communications ecosystem is at a tipping point and is ready for investment of money and dedicated bandwidth.

The history of this ecosystem starts in 1999. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for intelligent transportation systems use. The intent of this decision was “to improve traveler safety, decrease traffic congestion, facilitate the reduction of air pollution, and help to conserve vital fossil fuels.” Now, almost 20 years later, technology for computing at the edge has caught up to the FCC’s vision.

Cisco is a market leader in this ecosystem, delivering wireless and wired connectivity, and secure, best-in-class networking technology,  to new IP government and enterprise transportation networks that map to requirements set by the US Department of Transportation(DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA). Fueling (or charging!) these advancements in transportation safety is the 5.9 GHz spectrum which Cisco’s connectivity and edge computing has already brought to deployments in the City of Las Vegas and the Ohio Turnpike with more coming online in the next few months.

5.9 GHz spectrum has been instrumental to keeping the nexus of innovation in transportation in the hands of those who have more than a century of experience: the trucking and auto industries, along with the state and local highway authorities who understand transportation problems best. And that has happened precisely because use of the 5.9 GHz spectrum has to date been organized very much like Wi-Fi, as a low cost, shared transportation band that can support an ever-evolving set of applications that provide huge benefits to road safety and efficiency. Moreover, transportation industry leaders uniformly recognize that radio-based technology, included in the mix of new IP-based transportation networks, will provide critical new data to improve our transportation experience today, and help take us into the autonomous future.

We are in a transformative time as autonomous vehicle development speeds ahead. There will be benefits to everyone across safety, efficiency, accessibility, environmental impact, and more. With a safety ecosystem established and rapidly growing around 5.9 GHz, it is important that we continue to invest in this band so that the road to the future is a smooth one.