Connecting the V2X Dots with 5G Speed

The age of connected cars has started.

The age of connected cars has started. General Motors and Mercedes recently launched vehicles that can share information with each other, and Volkswagen plans to join the chat-fest with its own system by 2019. More applications are expected soon in the wake of a proposed rule by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) that would require half of all new vehicles to be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications capability by as early as 2020 and all vehicles getting it by 2022. 

Such connected vehicles can share information about their location, speed, direction and traffic conditions, regardless of weather or line-of-sight. Alerts are sent to following vehicles to warn them about hard braking, slippery conditions and use of hazard lights. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 1,300 lives a year could be saved by fully implementing V2V communications. The DOT also is developing standards for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems that would convey information about upcoming work zones, traffic lights and warning signs.  

The goal is to eventually link vehicles with essentially all surrounding digital devices and embedded sensors in a vehicle-to-everything (V2X) architecture that encompasses other cars, the roadway, nearby buildings, parking garages and pedestrians with smartphones. But doing so won’t be easy. It will require a more sophisticated communications network that can handle much higher volumes at greater speeds and improved reliability.  

The DOT proposal calls for using dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) over the 5.9-GHz broadcast band the Federal Communications Commission set aside for automotive applications. DSRC promises to be much faster than current 4G cellular networks, reducing latency from about 20 milliseconds to as little as 1 millisecond. The downside: DSRC requires its own infrastructure along roadways and/or other DSRC-enabled vehicles.

As a result, there’s a growing move to bypass DSRC with emerging fifth-generation (5G) cellular systems. 5G can provide about the same latency as DSRC using existing cell towers—although much more will be needed—and can enable more functions, including cloud connectivity, fleet platooning and more advanced navigation. Proponents predict 5G will be an exponential advance over previous cellular systems with operating speeds more than 10 times as fast as current 4G LTE modems, connecting a host of interrelated devices and helping to enable autonomous vehicles and smart cities. Self-driving cars with 5G systems, for example, could quickly transmit data collected from sensors to the cloud, where it would be analyzed and transmitted back within fractions of a second (before a car travels a few centimeters) to coordinate traffic lights with changing conditions in real time. 

Industry executives rave about such possibilities. “5G is the key enabling technology to accommodate big data, enhance the user experience and transform the transportation system as a whole,” Volkswagen’s Volkmar Tanneberger said earlier this year. Tanneberger, who headed VW’s electric/electronics development for a decade, in March was appointed executive vice president of technical engineering for VW’s joint venture with SAIC in China.

Qualcomm CEO Stephen Mollenkopf is even more enthusiastic. "5G will be a new kind of network, supporting a vast diversity of devices with unprecedented scale, speed and complexity," Mollenkopf told attendees at January’s CES electronics show in Las Vegas. He likens 5G to the advent of electricity and the automobile, with the potential to affect entire economies and societies. He’s been keynoting several industry events this year with the same message.

Although 5G standards haven’t been finalized, cellular carriers and chipmakers, including Qualcomm and Intel, are developing and testing services and technologies in preparation. The first 5G-enabled consumer electronic systems are expected to start next year, followed by broader deployment in 2019. While automotive applications may lag somewhat due to validation requirements, companies are eager to get started. Last year, Qualcomm and Intel co-founded the 5G Automotive Association with Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia to study the potential of 5G networks for next-generation vehicles. 

Qualcomm’s Mollenkopf predicts the overall global market for 5G systems could total $12 trillion by 2035, with the auto industry accounting for $2.4 trillion. He suggests the technology also will lead to businesses that haven’t been thought of yet. So let’s put on our 5G thinking caps and connect the dots to the future.