The Road Ahead for Connected Cars: Collaboration

Martin Keenan -
Illustration: © IoT For All

Although the automotive industry has now broadly accepted the emerging C-V2X standard, there is still much work to be done to realize the benefits of connected cars. Much of the infrastructure required to create an effective ecosystem is still at a trial stage, and the need for major collaboration is becoming more pressing.

The automotive industry is one of the most regulated industries on the planet. For many decades it has been in a unique position to develop engineering and technological solutions at its own pace. However, as cars have become more connected, the state of affairs has gradually shifted and it’s increasingly the case that no one industry is in control of all the components of the ecosystem. For example, smart cities with multiple public/private relationships will become key players while mobile network operators control the most important slice of the infrastructure.

Competing Standards

The emergence of standards is a key step for this ecosystem. This is especially true in the form of the cellular-vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) standard––arguably one of the most crucial standards in the entire vertical. According to a new report, compliant products are set for a steady increase of 10% over the next five years. This is in part due to the positioning of C-V2X as the ultimate road safety enhancement, an improvement that the industry hopes will combat the 1.35 million global road fatalities in 2018 alone.

Indeed, it was with a view to reducing the EU’s 25,000 annual road deaths that the EU’s Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc sent a formal request to the European Parliament in mid-2019 to mandate the Wi-Fi-based C-ITS in advance of the C-V2X standard. This was voted down, paving the way for C-V2X to emerge as the defacto standard. Car manufacturers themselves are split between competing standards, creating confusion, and inhibiting the wider ecosystem development, creating the conditions for a protracted standards conflict.  

Much C-V2X lobbying involves the powerful 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). The 5GAA was founded in September 2016 by eight organizations: Audi, BMW Group, Daimler, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, and Qualcomm. Membership now stands at around 133 companies and organizations. The 5GAA signed a three-year cooperation agreement to promote the C-V2X standard with the GSMA in late 2019. The GSMA counts more than 750 operators and nearly 400 companies on its member rolls. For the moment it certainly seems that C-V2X has won the day. C-V2X will be the ongoing vehicle-to-everything standard, helped in many ways by the fact that 5G networks are now in the early stages of rollout. 

C-V2X Adoption Curve

The first phase of the C-V2X standard was finalized by 3GPP in June 2017. This initial phase was designed around LTE network technology, but is forward-compatible with 5G, in an effort to get infrastructure decisions made while 5G was/is rolled out. The standard supports two transmission nodes. The first is a short-range communication between vehicles and other road users or infrastructure. This could offer actions such as automatic braking in the future, for example. The second node uses mobile networks to receive and send data in a more conventional way, receiving traffic reports, weather alerts, and general road condition information, for example. 

The market might have been slow to react initially, but the adoption curve is steepening, with Qualcomm’s 9150 C-V2X chipset platform featuring in multiple new products just announced in Europe. In addition, a new European Standard (EN) defining the use of C-V2X as an access layer technology for Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) devices was recently approved through the European Telecommunication Standardization Institute (ETSI), further strengthening the movement. 

While this might indicate that C-V2X is a ‘done deal’ there are still a number of hurdles in the way of mass adoption. These include different spectrum allocations (especially in the US market), as well as uncertainty around C-V2X use in commercial goods vehicles, ambulances, and public transport such as buses and trams. Consensus will be required across the board to make many of the most innovative safety features work reliably in the complex environment of a modern city, although the adoption rate will vary considerably for other reasons too. 

Platforms and Services

The journey of the C-V2X standard does prove several things though, most importantly, that the future of the connected car will be reliant on many parties. Also, that an area that was once as simple to the consumer as a one-off lump sum and annual running costs is now very much the realm of service provision. This change will undoubtedly create exciting new functionality, improve safety, and generate huge potential for new business models and new market entrants. 

One obvious example of this comes courtesy of Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP), a move from the Redmond giant to unify connected cars and their data with the Azure platform, enabling a range of in-vehicle services, as well as offering commercial operators powerful efficiency insights. A recent deal saw sat nav giant TomTom pledge to integrate with MCVP, and Microsoft has already signed up Volkswagen to the platform. 

The Real Connected Car Challenge

Collaboration is going to be a major component of success in the connected car industry, as is the ability to integrate multiple products and services and simultaneously demonstrate their value to consumers, retailers, and the political sphere. The real connected car challenge is only just beginning.

Author
Martin Keenan - Technical Director of Avnet Abacus, Avnet Abacus

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