Betting on Cellular for Future Mobility
There seems to be a lot of hype these days about vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology and the promise this interoperability holds for safer roadways and more efficient travel. However, while the possibilities, such as cars that can detect pedestrians from the smartphones in their pockets or anticipate changing traffic signals miles ahead, certainly warrant further discussion, the technology that will make these developments possible doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deeply deserves. This needs to be addressed not just by automotive technology suppliers, but by the entire transportation industry.
Two paths to connectivity
Right now, there are two options for achieving more widespread V2V/X communications: dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) or cellular technology, mainly 5G. The average driver may not realize this, but V2X technology is already in use today through DSRC. This and its European counterpart, ITS-G5, are based on the IEEE 802.11p wireless standard, an amended version of the specifications likely governing your office Wi-Fi. However, DSRC is actively being used today by electronic tolling systems, e.g. toll tags. That said, it is a challenge for DSRC to match the wide-reaching communications capabilities that cellular can provide between cars and other networked devices – such as the smartphones in the pockets of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
The bandwidth, low latency, and reliability strengths of 5G make it much better suited to automotive rollout applications
DSRC technology is rooted in nearly 20-year-old standards and even though the work put forth by IEEE/ SAE to create security protocols, basic safety messages, cooperative awareness messages and event notifications specific to the automotive and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) communities has been great, V2V/X success needs even more capabilities than DSRC is able to provide. 5G-fueled cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology provides data rates up to 20 Gbps and ultra-reliable, low latency communications with only 1 ms delays, making it more suitable for the vast data transfer needs of a connected car. The 802.11p standard was innovative at the time it was introduced, but cars now have numerous active sensors including cameras, radar and LiDAR and the list will only grow as we move up the SAE Level of Autonomy ladder. All of this will only force the V2X wireless sensor to deliver additional value, including longer range and greater reliability – something DSRC technology will have a challenge addressing.
Although my work in automotive telematics has led me to believe that 5G is the way forward for V2X technology, there are some that would argue DSRC is more realistic, proven and already established, thus advocating for investments into both to create complementary technologies. While it is possible for both 5G and DSRC to complement each other, the transportation industry would essentially double the investment needed to enable the same level of capabilities of 5G. A single network is more efficient and allows for greater innovation as companies and road operators build for a single network. Investing in both 5G and DSRC would be the infrastructure equivalent of having two styles of electrical power piped into your home: one for low amperage appliances and another for higher load systems such as HVAC.
One of the main arguments against C-V2X is the misconception that all applications would require a network connection. That simply isn’t true, as many V2V, vehicle-to-people (V2P) and other short-range solutions will work without reliance on network connectivity because of the LTE-PC5 capabilities. This allows direct-mode communications between vehicles, road users, and infrastructure operating in intelligent transportation system (ITS) bands independent of the cellular network – similar to what is being done now through 802.11p DSRC. When you combine this with 5G’s true power capabilities through a network connection, the flexible and scalable nature of cellular technology shows too much promise not to be the backbone of future mobility.
Looking forward: The future of the driving experience
Ultimately, our work with vehicle telematics isn’t meant to sell one piece of technology rather than the other but instead, promote greater roadway safety and expand the user experiences available to motorists across the globe. Getting to a point where vehicles can take early safety warnings and match them with incidents that are happening further along a roadway to avoid potential hazards and protect their passengers, or upload/download high volumes of 3D mapping and sensor data to further develop autonomous A.I., will save lives and make commuting more efficient, and this really can’t happen without cellular technology. The bandwidth, low latency, and reliability strengths of 5G make it much better suited to automotive rollout applications, and it could therefore become ubiquitous and essential to consumers’ lives.