Is the UK heading for a car crash of standards?

Real Wireless experts recently came together to discuss the likely trends in wireless for 2021. Despite the issues slowing down activity over 2020, a lot was accomplished last year.

The connected vehicle ecosystem, for example, continues to move towards standardisation of telecommunications support for safety-critical service.

Unfortunately, there has been a – metaphorical – roadblock in the form of competing standards. Will this year see this thorny issue resolved?

First, however, some context. An already complex ecosystem is becoming even more complex. That’s hardly surprising. There’s a lot of innovation and new services in the connected vehicle space.

All this is very welcome, but it means that, as I write, some 150,000,000 lines of code and up to 100 processors are the norm for the latest connected vehicles.

That’s much, much more than aircraft, say, though we should not be too surprised at that. We are, after all, trying to work towards autonomous vehicles that, as a minimum, don’t bump into people, things or other vehicles in highly restricted spaces. The amount of information a car will need to glean from its surroundings, and then process and act on quickly is enormous.

To make this happen requires continuous and high-quality connectivity, but we’re still in the early stages of enabling the three main use cases within vehicles: infotainment, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and vehicle end-to-end services.

This demands a massive amount of sensor and camera-enabled monitoring – and with that, of course, comes masses of data to assess so that we can learn how to improve. Progress has nevertheless been made. And yet we’re only at vehicle autonomy level three so far (you can find out more about levels of vehicle autonomy here).

And it’s not just about safe autonomous driving. Cars may be able to fuel or recharge themselves. In-car chatbots could be offered. There might be in-car links to home automation. There also needs to be a business model for driverless cars. After all, why own when you can rent?

In fact the automotive ecosystem will soon be inextricably linked with mobile operators, telcos, cloud service providers, equipment vendors and webscale operators. Will they all agree on who owns what – and who makes money from what? And what about the lag between new connectivity possibilities and actual vehicle development?

For now, however, most people just want to be sure that their vehicle won’t crash, which brings us back to our standardisation issue. Through V2X (the ability for a vehicle to sense and communicate with just about everything) the aim is to enable vehicles to react and respond with minimum latency. After all, if someone in front of you brakes, you wouldn’t wait before responding; neither should your autonomous car.

Two standards support safety-critical V2X services: Cellular-V2X (C-V2X) and ITS-G5. ITS-G5 is a Wi-Fi-enabled technology operating at 5.9GHz but it does require a dedicated network to support it. C-V2X, by contrast, has been designed from the start to work with cellular networks. However, it also has a ‘direct’ mode so that it can talk to other vehicles or pedestrians. This mode is called a PC-5 sidelink; it too operates in 5.9 GHz spectrum. With careful standardisation work C-V2X could therefore communicate with ITS-G5, potentially bridging the gap between these two standards.

These are two standards that seem to do roughly the same thing. It’s a reminder of one of the roadblocks inherent in multi-standard systems: complexity, cost and, for vehicle users, uncertainty. And this isn’t a distant problem we are signposting, it’s a ‘here and now’ problem – new vehicles are now being sold equipped with ITS-G5 and some countries are starting to deploy C-V2X.

While many other issues affecting the connected vehicle ecosystem will take longer to work through, my guess is that 2021 will see this one resolved. However, whether it’s by convergence, government intervention or simply some form of compromise, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Real Wireless provides expert advice on Smart Cities and all of the components that make up Smart Cities including – Smart Buildings, IoT, Smart Roads, and connected vehicles. We also advise city authorities how to accelerate mobile connectivity, which today is often 5G – such connectivity being the ‘glue’ that makes a Smart City function.