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Drivers, Start Your Internet!

May 25, 2017 by Lindsay M. Miller, Partner

Drivers, Start Your Internet!

In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) unanimously voted to open high-band spectrum for 5th generation (“5G”) wireless expansion. This action will significantly impact connected devices and the Internet of Things (“IoT”), including connected/ autonomous vehicles. While we are still several years from true 5G deployment, this week it “accelerated into reality” according to a blog from Ericcson.

In advance of this weekend’s 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, Verizon and Ericsson set up a network of small cell tower sites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Small cells are defined by the FCC as “low-powered wireless base stations that . . . are intended to cover targeted indoor or localized outdoor areas ranging in size from homes and offices to stadiums, shopping malls, hospitals, and metropolitan outdoor spaces.”

Verizon set up 25 small cells outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help maintain connectivity for the hundreds of thousands of people who will be in attendance on Sunday and to demonstrate 5G capabilities. Verizon and Ericcson then completely blacked out the windows of a car, mounted a camera to the front of it, gave the professional driver a pair of virtual reality goggles, and had him drive (at ~60 mph) around a track based on the video feed on the headset. The video of this test is available here: 


Despite the thrill, as expressed by Fierce Wireless in an article regarding the test, “a lot of things will need to happen before we see 5G supporting autonomous vehicles on actual roads.” This will include implementing robust broadband systems and ensuring secure maintenance and protection of the massive amounts of data that will be collected through the connected vehicles.

Several states have considered or enacted legislation or regulation regarding autonomous vehicles; however, many bills have failed. States that have successfully passed autonomous vehicle legislation have varying requirements related to insurance, safety mechanisms, liability, use of autonomous vehicles on public roads, and the presence of a human operator in the car.

In addition, there has been a recent push by Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) for legislation regarding the use of public rights-of-way and facilities, including traffic lights, utility poles, and street signs, for the expansion of small cell networks, in-part to support 5G connectivity. However, such legislation has been met with controversy due to strong concerns of local control.

The pending introduction of 5G connectivity will impact connected devices and IoT, including autonomous vehicles, in ways that are not yet fully imaginable. What is certain, however, is as telecommunications providers continue to test 5G wireless networks; automotive manufacturers continue to join the movement toward intelligent transportation; and federal, state, and local governments continue to explore the appropriate regulatory frameworks, it will be quite the ride.

Lindsay Miller is an attorney in Ice Miller’s Public Affairs and Government Law Groups and a member of the Internet of Things Industry Group. Read Ice Miller’s IoT Smart Connections guide here and Ice Miller’s State Leadership on Autonomous Vehicle Laws here.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.

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