5G could replay VHS v Betamax battle with connected cars

Frost and Sullivan has found that “autonomous cars [alone] will account for a $84Bn (£67Bn) market by 2030”. The claim was recently made in one of the company’s press releases by its mobility partner Franck Leveque. Of this market value the company says half will emanate from software related activities as a result of the convergence of the mobility sector with other industries. With the digital transformation of the automotive industry under way the firm expects to see the growth of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), created by ride-hailing apps and car-pooling apps. Together these mobile applications already have a combined total of 110M users.

With the global market for digital mobility services forecast to grow to $2Trn by 2025, Frost and Sullivan suggests there is much continued private sector interest in digital mobility services and, as result of this trend, the firm says there is a readiness to combine different modes of transport to the extent that the “lines between private and public transport are becoming blurred in favour of a multi-modal integrated transportation systems”.

This opens up the opportunity to increasingly integrate and aggregate mobility with smartphones and other smart devices expected to play a key role in the sector’s growth. Subsequently companies such as telcos, automotive manufacturers, transportation providers, software developers and other players are keen to develop strategic partnerships to establish the future of mobility with the help of the IoT and to create an interconnected future for the smart city infrastructure and connected cars.  Vodafone hopes that the development of 5G connectivity will make it all smarter.

Shared and electric

Gion Baker, CEO of Vodafone Automotive, believes that the future is about shared and electric transportation. He says this will lead to a more effective, sustainable and more environmentally friendly means of individual transportation. “If we look at the aspect of being ‘connected’, then it means that the car has the ability to exchange relevant information with its user, the environment and with a wider ecosystem of stakeholders,” he says. This will support vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) capabilities to enable with 5G some powerful use cases.

“The LTE evolution, powerful sensing and processing technologies combined with car architectures will allow us to make more use of them right from the start,” he explains. He elaborates that Vodafone no longer sees the connected car as an add-on. It is instead fast becoming an integral part of the design phase: “With this, we see cluster orientated architectures with high performance units connected through Ethernet to establish the way forward.”

In comes IoT, which even now plays in his view an important role in the digital transformation of everyday life and business to the extent that it influences many areas of the automotive industry. They include manufacturing, supply chain and the wider connected car ecosystem. “In line with this, we will also see more ways to integrate mobility systems that will enable users to choose the right transport for the [appropriate] purpose,” he suggests before emphasising that car-sharing is a trend that is becoming increasingly visible today. This trend will create new business opportunities for car manufacturers and mobility service providers.

Bandwidth needs    

Speaking about semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles, Andrew Miller, CTO of Thatcham Research, comments that 5G is very much about bandwidth between the monitoring station, the cloud and the vehicle: “Many of the current trials are conducted in a connected way; the vehicles are connected to the internet and 5G is about the amount of data that can be drawn down to enable the vehicles to make decisions.” He points out there will be times when a vehicle goes to an area that has poor connectivity and that there may even be occasions when a denial of service occurs.

In these circumstances the vehicles may not be able to send and receive the data to make the appropriate decisions and so autonomous cars, for example, will need to operate no matter what happens at any given moment. This applies even when the infrastructure supporting them fails or for whatever reason doesn’t yet exist.

He agrees with Vodafone that 5G will smarten these vehicles up. However, he thinks that the discussion is about where the technology sits. “It’s similar to the VHS and Betamax video cassette recorder conversation in terms of connectivity,” he explains before declaring that it’s too early to tell where the technology is heading. “I guess the connectivity is going to speed up and if someone comes along with new technology that’s faster then we’re likely as consumers to want it,” he surmises.

He understands that there are trials going on with both 4G and 5G because the 3G network is quite challenged: “Once you leave the metropolitan areas the network coverage becomes quite patchy.” He doubts that there will be a jump to 5G and, for the moment, there is a need to justify rolling out 5G in non-metropolitan locations. To fix this problem he thinks governments and the telecommunications industry need to do more to ensure that better network coverage is delivered. “This government has to drive this conversation if it wants to have a digital and connected economy,” he argues before adding, “If you don’t put up the masts to get the coverage you can’t complain if the digital economy isn’t working.” This includes mobility, IoT and semi or autonomous vehicles.

Telco interest

Mark Couttie, vice-president at Strategy&, part of the PwC network (formerly Booz & Company), finds that there is much interest in the automotive industry emanating from telecommunications companies. “There will be no doubt that some pull on them as autonomous and connected technology advances, resulting in unseen levels of collaborations,” he predicts.

This collaboration means that more and more cars are adopting connected features and, more importantly, he says there is a common understanding that the communications ecosystem may support the expansion of these features in the future. “The obvious example of the changing role of telecoms companies is in insurance, where they could play a much larger role through the use of telematics from connected and autonomous cars,” he explains. In other words, better and more accurate coverage and connectivity could offer more highly accurate granular analysis of vehicle and driver data for usage-based insurance (UBI). Accuracy is after all needed to establish the exact risks of a policy and telematics can be used to establish liability in the event of a crash.

“It is plausible that we will see an increasing shift in the liable parties in accidents, moving away from the driver towards the automotive manufacturers, and so this will create a greater need for collaboration between car companies, insurance companies, and telcos,” he says. Connected vehicles also offer a new means to market new products and services, and so Couttie adds that there could be a “whole host of other examples of how telecoms will change as a result of how IoT connects in smart cities – including how it connects to intelligent transport systems (ITS).” 

Focus on demand

Moving forward he suggests that there is a prerequisite to focus on demand more than on needs. This is because concentrating on needs doesn’t in his opinion articulate the art of the possible. “In our recent connected and autonomous vehicle impact study, the majority of the respondents (56%) were positive about the technology when they were informed about it,” he reveals. He believes it’s a must to focus on stimulating demand rather than on needs. By focusing on demand it’s possible to explain what can be achieved, the benefits of the technology and it helps to stimulate interest.

“Different cultures accept technology in different ways and, in comparison to some other nations, the UK could be considered more risk-averse than others,” he suggests. He, therefore, calls on the UK government to run an information campaign to dispel the myths associated with driverless technology to combat the potential barriers to its deployment. After all people still like to feel in control and many people use car ownership as a means of establishing their social status. People’s concerns otherwise include vehicle security and data protection. The latter arises because the different ecosystem partners wish to have access to open but anonymised data to improve their vehicles and also to make improvements to the V2X infrastructure that supports their capabilities.

Security and privacy

Audi spokesperson for finance and IT, Oliver Scharfenberg, says his company constantly works on improving the security of its vehicles to prevent or make manipulations by making illegal access more difficult. “We provide our customers with the highest safety standards and we secure our systems with proofed mechanisms and standards – including embedded security,” he explains before adding that the driving-related functions of the connectivity and infotainment are separated from each other via software and hardware solutions. He also stressed that Audi continuously adjusts its security standards to prevent vehicle hacking and to protect users’ privacy.

With regards to the impact of 5G and IoT on smart cities he comments: “5G is an essential ingredient to the internet of things because it will, for example, allow for a significantly larger number of devices per area unit to communicate with each other.”  IoT in his view is also a crucial element that’s needed to create smart cities – including connected and smart mobility infrastructure. He adds that there are many different connections between the technical infrastructure of traffic management and between the traffic participants themselves.

IoT examples

“IoT will include street lights, traffic lights, induction sensors of parking sites as well as all the sensor data of the connected cars,” he explains. The connected car sensors can enable the display of information about the road surface and whether it is damaged, icy, wet or snow. “With all of this data there is great potential for every single player within the smart city network,” he claims.

Audi has, he says, already demonstrated the latest status of V2X technologies “at special test drives at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and at CeBIT in Hannover in partnership with Vodafone as a mobile network operator and in partnership with Huawei as a hardware specialist.” The demonstrations involved a new mobile network called LTE-V as a transition technology on journey to 5G. The V in LTE-V stands for ‘vehicular’. So, while there is much co-opetition, the development of new standards may stimulate some competition for the whatever will be the de facto standard of smart cities and connected cars.

Good to talk

Dino Flore, director general of 5GAA, says his association offers the opportunity for industry players from the different parts of the ecosystem to talk to each other. “We want to bridge the gap between the telecoms and automotive companies to establish end-to-end solutions for connected mobility and cars are already getting connected to the cellular network,” he points out. So, from his perspective, the connectivity for connected cars and smart cities is already there. He also predicts that its penetration will be very high in the next few years but presently the task is to connect cars to allow them to communicate with each other. This, he says, will enable advanced safety services.

Baker concludes that the term ‘smart cities’ has a wide definition. In spite of this, he considers that the time to think of what the industry wants to achieve is now. “Every system that goes from standalone to intelligent has an aspect of sense as it processes information, analyses it and acts upon it – this is interconnected,” he explains. He argues that this can be achieved with smart meters and with smart cars. Vodafone, therefore, believes the discussion about smart cities, smart environment and smart mobility is essential. Yet, he claims you can have smart mobility without autonomous driving because smart mobility is about offering more choices.

Offer choice

“In LA you have no choice but to take a car,” he claims before commenting that transportation choices are aplenty in London. “In Shanghai you have everything and so it’s about the freedom of choice to avoid wasting time in traffic jams as well as about the car being there when you need it.” Reduced traffic jams through better traffic management and with the help of Intelligent Transport Systems can also help cities to meet the UN’s development goals by reducing pollution. So, while nobody can say precisely when 5G will become mainstream, each of the technologies has a promising future. The key to its success is to put industry collaboration first before any industry competition.


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