5G Backers Take Aim at Road Safety, Autonomous Cars

Many mobile operators and equipment makers are lining up behind 5G technologies for vehicles as networks and devices for the next generation of cellular start to emerge.

Last week Netherlands carrier KPN announced it had chosen mobile infrastructure powerhouse Ericsson to explore 5G automotive applications including communication among cars and between vehicles and infrastructure such as traffic lights.

KPN said it will work with Ericsson to implement 5G technologies in its commercial network along a stretch of highway in the Netherlands. It will use the systems to test features such as ultra-low latency for near-real-time vehicle-to-vehicle communication and links between cars and roadway infrastructure.

The work will aid development of self-driving cars, according to the companies.

Wireless networking to improve road safety and reduce congestion has been a long-held goal but taken longer than expected to achieve wide use. Now that the first deployments of 5G are near, the cellular world is beginning to see the new technology as the eventual answer to their automotive prayers. Early commercial mobile 5G networks are set to go live this year, and mobile devices that can use them are starting to emerge.

Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is designed to make driving safer by letting cars warn each other about things like stalled vehicles, congestion and even cars quickly approaching blind intersections. It can also be used for coordination between vehicles for things like truck platooning and preventing traffic jams. Pedestrians, cyclists and other road users could make their presence known via cellphones. Cloud-based information and entertainment are part of the vision, too.

C-V2X exists in 4G but will get more capable with enhancements from 5G. Some cellular backers say that makes it a better bet than 802.11p (also called dedicated short-range communications, or DSRC), a WiFi-like system that has been available for years but is still in limited use.

KPN and Ericsson’s project is part of a broad European initiative called Concorda, which includes work on both cellular and 802.11p. But calls to focus on C-V2X are growing.

Last week, Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN), a global group of mobile operators, said its tests found cellular would outperform 802.11p on the road.

Among other things, tests by Ericsson and other network suppliers found cellular achieved longer range, which could be important for reaching more cars and giving earlier warnings.

C-V2X always had a longer range than 802.11p, both on city streets and on freeways, based on simulation tests, NGMN said in a white paper (PDF). When cars were going 140 kilometers per hour (87mph), C-V2X would go more than twice as far under certain conditions: the difference between more than 400 meters of range versus less than 200 meters, they said.

The cellular system also offers better latency — especially important for self-driving cars — and scalability, NGMN said. The size of the cellular ecosystem, and the massive investment by carriers and manufacturers in 5G, is another argument for it.

Carrier members of NGMN have deployed cellular connections to more than 30 million cars worldwide, and eventually most new cars will ship with cellular radios, the white paper said. Smartphones in the hands of pedestrians and others are part of the picture, too. Carriers will be able to upgrade existing networks for C-V2X, avoiding the cost of deploying totally new 802.11p infrastructure, the group said. With chipsets for C-V2X coming to market this year, automakers could build it into cars shipping in 2020, NGMN said.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *