Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a 3 day romp in Jacksonville and while the weather was a little soggy, the experience was great. The conference called, “ITS 5C” included 5 state chapters from Intelligent Transportation Society of America. These include representatives from the States Florida, Georgia, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. These states brought in nearly 800 people together to discuss ITS-related topics.
I arrived late Sunday, both because I wanted to run in the morning and also I get extremely frustrated when I have to travel on Sunday. Being on the vendor-side, you travel a ton, and downtime with family is extremely valuable, especially when you’re away 2-4 nights per week. Anyways, I arrived Sunday, set down my bags in the hotel across the river, and headed over. Unfortunately, I had missed the Connected Vehicle workshop being held but had the chance to network with the groups in the evening. The cocktail reception was packed. It took me nearly 90 minutes to get some food and a beverage, as I was constantly stopped by folks I knew. We chatted about everything from the latest hiring gossip to more esoteric & philosophical conversations, until finally I had enough and broke mid-conversation for a small sandwich. “They don’t feed me at home,” I said, jokingly, and stuffed a morsel in my mouth.
Monday was a day chock-full of sessions and panels. This was the “sit in the crowd” day, where panels and presentations are held. Tuesday was more of the same, with tours in the afternoon. Wednesday was pretty barren as most people had left the day before. While I attempted to attend every session and networking event, here’s what I learned:
DSRC vs. 5G – The debate is different in transportation*
Hearing a debate about whether connected vehicles will be either 5G vs. DSRC is commonplace nowadays. The comparison people like to use is whether they are buying beta max or VHS. This is a faulty comparison that I’ll get into more in a later post. The main issue (besides the fact that 5G expansion is inevitable) is that cities and states don’t procure 5G equipment. This is done by carriers, like Verizon & T-Mobile, who get permits from municipalities in order to install and maintain their equipment, typically on publicly-owned street light poles or traffic signal poles. DSRC, on the other hand, is solely procured, installed, operated, and maintained by the municipality. Therefore, you can buy DSRC units, but you cannot really buy a 5G unit. Hence, the statement above is a false equivalence.
Anyways, at the conference there were multiple session discussing connected vehicle projects. ITS America’s Shailen Bhatt even weighed in on the topic in the opening session, stating that the organization supports saving the 5.9 GHz spectrum. However, the main event was Wednesday, when, coincidentally, 70% of the attendees were gone (mostly due to the horrific storm, Hurricane Michael, but typically everyone leaves the day before). Of the 4 panelists, there was one person debating the merits of 5G and one debating the merits of DSRC, while the other 2 were neutral. Here were the arguments:
For 5G, the argument had a few points, the first being the usability and cost components. A 5G spectrum can be used for multiple things (compete for in-home internet, provide high-definition streaming, unlock a new set of industries like 4G LTE had, etc.). Also, the cost to deploy a full 5G network is high, but costs can be recouped by selling bandwidth. The second argument the panelist made for 5G is that it is highly available. Being able to require a telecom provider to have a certain uptime is far more pallatable for automotive OEMs than relying on municipal networks. The last item is that 5G holds the promise to a lot more applications, and the DSRC camp is stuck in a sunk cost fallacy.
For DSRC, the panelist had some counterpoints. The first is that with DSRC the municipality owns the data and can decide what to do it with from there. This allows full flexibility by the agency to provide services and get insight from them. The second is that DSRC has been around for decades and is thoroughly researched and vetted. Tolling agencies, for example, have been using a similar spectrum (5.8) for years for their collections. By providing a proven technology out on the streets now, lives can be saved and efficiency can be gained.
In the end, there was no resolution, as most of these things go. The issue is that this makes for good conference fodder, but, in reality, no one attending the conference can really do anything to resolve it. It will come from the OEMs, and will be C-V2X, not 5G.
Networking is key to success
Early in my career, a peer said to be, “Kris, in this business, it’s not what you know but who knows you.” Over my time in the transportation industry, I could not agree more. Each position I have taken since I graduated has been through personal contacts.
The conference offered the chance to maintain and grow networks. There was a cocktail reception, 45-min breaks between technical sessions, an event at a brewery and a museum, and technical tours. Each of these gave us vendors, consultants, and agencies an opportunity to talk with potential partners, engage new clients, and spitball new ideas to advance the industry. One of these networking sessions was worth the price of admission, and we had multiple.
Data analytics are starting to take shape
Data data data. I have heard this mentioned so much over the past few years that…
So it was with great relief when I saw some actual change and advancement in the industry. One of the best sessions I sat in was the Arterial Management session, presented by Iteris, Georgia DOT (GDOT), and Coke Consulting. What really caught my eye was GDOT’s next phase of Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures (ATSPM). The new tool, called MARK, turns all that ATSPM data into dashboards and actions that traffic engineers can use to make the system better. A screenshot is shown below:
These screenshots, which can be found here: https://atops.shinyapps.io/rtop_monthly_report/, show trends in operation and outcome. This is done through open-source software, utilizing minimal infrastructure as possible. Being able to
Climate issues are still taken lightly
In the wake of the latest UN report and with Hurricane Michael barring down, I am still extremely disappointed that the industry is not taking this issue seriously. At least for my generation, and yes, I am part of the “me generation,” as aptly and accurately described in the photo below:
The impacts these types of technologies can produce, whether it be the reduction in fuel emissions, or the advanced notification of extreme weather events, was tamped down. Technology can be a driving force for innovation and improvement on climate change. For example, if we can reduce the amount of fuel we waste by 1%, we would save nearly 30M gallons of fuel, based on a 2014 TTI & Inrix study. That’s huge, and entirely achievable if the ITS industry starts focusing on pure innovation.
One of the culprits as to why I believe that innovation has taken a backseat is that ITS technology still procures equipment in a waterfall format, instead of a Smart Communities Format. If an agency can focus more on outcomes, not whether or not the technology meets their exact specs, dealing with change orders and invoices, and all the other headaches that come with hardware procurement, then I believe we can move forward and tackle some of these big issues. If not, well, then we’re still going to be hearing about the 5G vs. DSRC debate for the next decade.
*Full disclosure: my employer is not a DSRC-based connected vehicle company. We focus on the available cellular spectrum, hence my implicit bias towards cellular-based connectivity.