Autos gain spotlight as telecoms gear up for 5G

  • 16-Mar-2016 05:08 EDT
aetr5GVisteon Wireless Gateway.jpg

Visteon's connectivity architecture will expand further as 5G cellular systems emerge.

The telecommunications industry has begun firming up plans to upgrade from 4G to 5G cellular networks, citing the automotive industry as an important beneficiary. Tier 1s are beginning to incorporate this fifth-generation wireless technology into their plans to enhance safety as they push towards autonomous driving.

Deploying 5G into the market by around 2020 was a focus at the recent Mobile World Congress, with connected vehicles playing a large role in show's telecom-industry announcements. LG Electronics and Intel teamed up to bring 5G technologies to the vehicle. Ericsson and Geely Auto partnered around connected-car services, saying they will gradually introduce 5G-based autonomous-driving functionality.

Interest in the 5G upgrade is global. The European Commission and the 5G Public-Private Partnership, a consortium formed in 2013, highlighted ways that 5G could improve vehicle safety. The eventual transition to 5G will alter the role of connectivity.

“In the past, faster cellular technologies were perceived as the harbingers for increased infotainment,” said Rob Gee, Telematics Systems Engineering Manager at Continental Automotive. “With the rising installation rates of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), we anticipate the next generations of cellular to be increasingly used to improve highly automated driving systems and to improve vehicular safety.”

Can V2V and 5G coexist?

Upgrading to 5G cellular technology is appealing because it will significantly increase bandwidth while slashing latency. The latter is a critical factor for safety, since quick responses are mandatory. Suppliers are gearing up to ensure that automakers can adapt quickly once 5G materializes.

“Visteon is investing in in-car technology, known as a wireless gateway, which will enable automakers to quickly transition to 5G without having to tear up the vehicle architecture,” said Martin Green, Telematics and Connected Car Technology Manager at Visteon. “We are already incorporating some of the intermediate technologies between 4G and 5G, specifically LTE-Vehicle.”

Market watchers note that once telecom suppliers finish trials, they can incorporate new technologies fairly quickly. The transition from 4G to 5G could be shorter than the shift from 3G to today’s 4G connections. 

“Companies can enhance 4G to 5G comparatively easily,” said Ramnath Eswaravadivoo, Frost & Sullivan’s Mobility Senior Research Analyst. “The costs won’t be nearly as high as they were going to 4G. A couple more towers can make it work.”

However, he noted that in the U.S., adding towers won’t be nearly as easy as in small countries like South Korea, which he said may be a leader in the 5G rollout. If the U.S. rollout begins around 2020, it may coincide with the advent of vehicle-to-vehicle/infrastructure (V2X) communications. The industry has developed V2X standards using dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) as an enabler for automated and autonomous driving.

“Companies working towards autonomous driving need V2V capabilities,” said Hans Roth, Director of Business Development at Harman. Harman recently teamed up with NXP Semiconductors to develop V2X technologies.

That raises questions about how V2V and 5G will co-exist and compete. Many believe there’s a spot for both. V2X studies have been going on for years, so it’s viewed as the more mature option.

“5G can definitely do some of the things that V2X can do, but current V2X systems have been in the field for years,” said Maurice Geraets, Senior Director Business Development Automotive at NXP. “5G is still looking at doing its first tests next year.”

The competition aspect of the V2X-5G matchup may occur on the infrastructure side. Vehicle-to-infrastructure links such as roadside stations may require investment by cash-strapped traffic management agencies, so those functions may drift to 5G, leveraging the investment of cellular providers.

“Cellular solutions such as LTE-V, which is on a roadmap to 5G, can partially reduce the infrastructure cost, especially in cars,” Green said. “However, like V2X, the business-case issue of installing service on a roadside in the middle of nowhere remains. A purely car-based V2V solution, whether it is 5G or DSRC, can only be effective when there is sufficient population density."

He noted that this can only be driven by "a mandated approach around international standards to ensure inter-operability.”

Safety and security issues 

Regulatory mandates for V2X systems are expected, and many observers feel they’re necessary to get companies to spend money creating systems that only work if other vehicles have compatible links. Spending on 5G will occur as providers ramp up consumer products that may work with automotive systems.

“Less-complex systems, such as 5G-enabled home door locks or home lighting-control modules, could be developed quickly and independently from the automotive realm and could greatly expand the number of features that are wirelessly compatible with 5G-equipped vehicles,” Gee said. “This would allow such fast-moving consumer technologies to be available for automotive use, allowing OEMs to select the most appropriate products to interface with their vehicles."

More complex projects, such as an incident tracking and reporting system, would still take time due to complexity and its safety-related nature, Gee explained.

The focus on safety also highlights the need for security, which has become a critical issue as connectivity opens doors for hackers. When cars take action based on these communications, already high security concerns are ratcheted up.

“With V2X, there will be even higher needs for secure communications,” Roth said. “All the information goes to vehicle electronics so the system can make the right decisions for action. If your car receives a message that causes it to brake, you must be sure that message is authentic.”

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