From mission-critical to passenger comfort: wireless connectivity prepares for step change

5G could revolutionise the transportation landscape, but who's in charge of connecting the car to the mobile network? Megan Lampinen investigates

Wireless communication could prove pivotal in the establishment of smart transportation networks. Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) connectivity promises to benefit everything from traffic flow and congestion to emissions levels and safety statistics. It could also pave the way for autonomous vehicles (AVs) further down the line and offers a path forward that is compatible with 5G when it eventually arrives.

Consumers increasingly expect to find the same connectivity they experience at home and with their phones when they are travelling in the car, and 5G – following on from 3G and 4G – promises a faster, more reliable connection than ever. Current estimates suggest browsing speeds could be up to 20 times faster than today’s mobile broadband.

For the past 15 years Qualcomm has been building up its expertise within the automotive domain; it was the first company to enable 4G LTE in the car in 2014, and the first to provide an automotive hot spot with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the car. With 5G it could be aiming for another industry first.

“We are now experiencing an evolution as the industry moves from a car that needs someone to control it, to autonomous driving. This innovation is based on technology, and one of the most important is wireless access technology,” explained Riccardo Calabro, Director of Product Marketing at Qualcomm.

Managing this wireless communication effectively is no easy task but it could prove a lucrative one and Qualcomm is pursuing it aggressively. For this particular supplier, it also offers a means of remaining relevant in a rapidly changing environment. The company has been working to expand its expertise in wireless communication for mobile phones into new realms, and automotive is a primary target.

Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) connectivity promises to benefit everything from traffic flow and congestion to emissions levels and safety statistics

Today, there are 40 active connected car programmes using Qualcomm technology, with an increasing focus on C-V2X. Qualcomm’s first C-V2X solution, the 9150 C-V2X chipset, will power commercial products which will be available in 2019. Earlier this year the company teamed up with PSA Group to demonstrate how cars can benefit from C-V2X technology complementing advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) sensors.

On display at the In&Out Digital Mobility event in Rennes, France, the vehicles showcased their ability to alert each other of potential roadside hazards or distressed vehicle situations. The company has also conducted C-V2X trials with other project partners around the world, including Ford in the US, Nissan in Japan and Audi in Germany. More are to follow in 2018 in different regions.

5G or bust

The automotive industry has previously adopted 3G and 4G to enable connectivity in the car, serving up internet access, enhanced infotainment content, and emergency assistance services such as eCall and ERA-GLONASS. These networks have also facilitated services like Waze for navigation or shared mobility schemes like Lyft and Uber. All these offerings have been taking advantage of the modem in the car, but there’s a game-changer coming in the form of 5G.

The fifth generation mobile network will introduce dramatic improvements in data throughput and latency, opening up many new use cases. “The evolution to 5G will basically bring us to the next level of communication capabilities, enabling communication not only to the internet but also between cars, between car and infrastructure, and car and pedestrian,” elaborated Calabro.

Qualcomm’s initial C-V2X product is based on Release 14 LTE (4G), which complements vehicle sensor input. Autonomous vehicles rely on several different kinds of sensors to detect and infer their surroundings and road conditions. Sensors such as radar and camera systems are essential but are limited by their line-of-sight (LOS) operation. Rel-14 C-V2X direct communication adds to this by providing 360-degree non-LOS (NLOS) awareness, extending a vehicle’s ability to detect farther down the road – even at blind intersections or in poor weather conditions. This is particularly useful given that today’s camera sensors often struggle with heavy rain or snow. “These capabilities will all be possible thanks to the PC5 interface, which does not need any operators subscription or network coverage,” added Calabro.

Importantly, the product is also designed to work with the evolution to 5G. Trials are already taking place around the world, with widespread implementation expected within the next few years. By that time, the network’s higher throughput and reliable, low latency communication should enable cars to share information in pivotal areas such as advanced path planning. For instance, a car travelling along the road will be able to receive information in real time from other cars, which can also collect information with their sensors. All this information can be shared, providing a real model of the world around the car. Other vehicles will receive this information and can then understand the environment more clearly and make better-informed decisions.

Fully autonomous driving will need the support of technology that can serve mission-critical services, and this is something that 5G can do

Beyond mission-critical services, the capabilities of 5G will also help transform the wider passenger experience as the industry moves towards autonomous driving. The idea is that as the driver becomes the passenger, he will have a wider range of options available to pass the time. Vehicles may start to include multiple screens and entertainment systems will be able to download movies in a matter of seconds. “One of the things that 5G will enable is a multi-gigabit data rate. This will bring a lot of data to the car that will be consumed in a different way,” Calabro told M:bility. “The data pipe will enable new ways to utilise time in the car, as we will not be driving anymore.”

Cross-industry collaboration

Qualcomm was one of the founding members of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), a cross-industry organisation of companies from the automotive, technology, and telecommunications industries (ICT). The scope is to develop an end-to-end connectivity solution for intelligent transportation and smart cities, with a focus on communication solutions. Interest has been strong and it now boasts more than 85 members, many of which gather every three months or so for discussion.

The group believes that 5G will facilitate the arrival of autonomous vehicles, but it isn’t necessarily essential to their functioning. “Fully autonomous driving will need the support of technology that can serve mission-critical services, and this is something that 5G can do,” said Calabro. “This doesn’t mean autonomous vehicles will only happen with 5G, but it will be a key element to make them successful.”

Without NXP

Qualcomm’s bid for leadership in mobile communications will have to be effected without the help of NXP’s assets. The proposed NXP acquisition had raised expectations across the automotive industry of a potential new leader in vehicle connectivity and 5G, perhaps nowhere more so than at Qualcomm. NXP seemed an ideal fit to Qualcomm’s automotive ambitions. The giant chip supplier, which previously acquired Freescale, enjoys a strong position in vehicle connectivity and ADAS. The combined company was expected to have annual revenues of more than US$30bn and leadership positions in global automotive semiconductors, ADAS, infotainment, safety systems, body and networking, powertrain and chassis, secure access, telematics and connectivity. However, the proposed deal fell through in July 2018.

“The rationale for the NXP acquisition was to accelerate our strategy of growing into adjacent opportunities where mobile compute was becoming ubiquitous. This strategy remains unchanged,” Chief Executive Steve Mollenkopf assured analysts in a recent earnings call. Over the past couple of years, the supplier has sought to leverage the industry dynamics of mobile everywhere, and with good results. In key industries, such as automotive, its pipeline of awarded design wins has expanded dramatically. So far this year it stands at US$5bn. “That is up US$2bn from January as automakers and Tier 1 suppliers leverage the strength of our roadmap and begin gearing up for 5G-enabled cars in 2021,” Mollenkopf added.

This article appeared in the Q1 2019 issue of M:bility | Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.