Satellites and Connected Vehicles

Last week, the Federal Communications Bar Association’s International Telecommunications Committee hosted a brown bag lunch on “The Role of Satellites for Connected Cars.” The lunch talk was moderated by Stephen Goodman of Butzel Long, and the panelists were:

  • Cynthia Grady, Senior Counsel, Intelsat US LLC;

  • Renee Gregory, Counsel at Willkie Farr & Gallagher;

  • Robert Koppel, Of Counsel at Lukas LaFuria Gutierrez & Sachs;

  • Brian Daugherty, Chief Technology Officer, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association

The panelists were generally in agreement and covered four main topics.

First, satellite service will be critical for connected vehicles due to its wide-ranging coverage. The panelists noted that satellites can offer ubiquitous coverage, even in hard-to reach areas. They pointed out that this feature could prove critical in the connected vehicles context because cars often travel in areas without terrestrial coverage, and some over-the-air applications—such as security patches—should happen immediately, regardless of where the vehicle is.

Second, despite the ubiquitous coverage of satellite service, it should serve as a complement, not a substitute for terrestrial networks. The panelists stressed that connected cars would never be solely reliant on satellites because of the relatively high latency of satellite service, as compared to terrestrial networks. Accordingly, they noted that terrestrial networks would be necessary for ultra-fast applications (e.g., whether a car needs to brake or not), whereas satellites could provide coverage for applications that are less latency-sensitive (e.g., navigation, infotainment, software updates).

Third, there are additional steps that need to be taken to facilitate the use of satellites in connected cars. These include:

  • The creation of smaller, cheaper, and more versatile antennas that can be housed within vehicles, although efforts are underway;

  • Seamless integration of terrestrial and satellite coverage to ensure constant connectivity for the consumer; and

  • The provision of adequate satellite spectrum by the FCC.

Fourth, the future looks bright for the integration of satellite coverage and connected cars. The panelists were confident that economies of scale would drive down consumer costs for smaller antennas and other necessary technologies. And they applauded the FCC’s previous work streamlining satellite licensing processes and were hopeful that the agency would continue to make deployments even easier.

Moving forward, it seems likely that satellites will play an ever-larger role as cars become more autonomous.


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