For the past two years, the U.S. DOT's research efforts have been on a new program called IntelliDrive(SM).  IntelliDrive(SM) is planned to use an inter-networked, wireless communications mesh of two main parts — the existing cellular system, plus a new 5.9 GHz bandwidth allocation.  The program hopes to improve vehicle safety by allowing short range, inter-vehicle message exchange with information about location, speed, and direction.

The NEMA members in the Transportation Section, who have supplied most of the traffic signal equipment at about 350,000 signalized intersections in the U.S., hope to participate in the IntelliDrive(SM) program, because of their prior cabinet integration experience.  However, it's the local government jurisdictions who are the actual owner/operators of the traffic control equipment cabinets at the roadside.  And those local governments face a huge cost when trying to consider how to build out all the new 5.9 GHz IntelliDrive(SM) radio nodes at many of those intersections.  Think "5 Gigahertz WiFi hotspots" at all our signalized intersections, but without the Starbucks store to pay for it!  (IEEE 802.11 defines wireless computer networking at both 2.4 and 5 GHz.)

 We sometimes don't appreciate the enormous amount of infrastructure that's "behind the curtain" to provide us our everyday services.

To illustrate — how big is our cell phone system?  As recently reported in Investor's Business Daily, TowerSource, a Colorado Springs company that helps market tower company facilities, has more than 250,000 sites in its database.  Those sites include traditional stand-alone cell towers, as well as facilities located on building tops, water tanks, silos and other structures.  With each of those cell sites supporting tens or hundreds of radio channels, plus emergency power and fiber backhaul, the cell infrastructure is a huge installed investment — all to make our little smart phones get that latest email. 

Trying to replicate the size of the existing cell site investment, but moving it to the roadside to use the 5.9 GHz allocation, could be an expensive proposition.  The lesson is that when we're considering large projects, we have to keep in mind the scale of our existing infrastructure that's allowing our systems to work today.  And can a new product or service being considered for roll-out either ride "piggy back" on existing infrastructure, or will it need a partially or completely new supporting infrastructure?  And if some new infrastructure is needed, what will be the "order of magnitude" for the build-out to make it work?  And how do we pay for it?

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