5G Extracts More V2X Revenue From Consumers Than DSRC

Top spot as the future dominant technology in the connected car world is still uncertain as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) and 5G LTE wireless slug it out.

Yet, as with so many issues involving automotive technology, the debate pits the argument for the proven robust path of DSRC against the extra revenue raising potential of 5G, which will end up costing the consumer more for connected car services.

One argument, backed by major automakers like Ford, says 5G will supplant DSRC soon, even though DSRC has the backing of the US government and the European Union and boasts a long, proven track record of safety and reliability. In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission dedicated 75 MHz of bandwidth at 5.9 GHz to be used for vehicle safety and other mobility applications. DSRC operates in this band and has been developed for more than a decade by a range of stakeholders including automakers, electronics manufacturers, state highway departments and the federal government.

The cost of build-outs for both technologies will run into the billions with telecoms operators promising their 5G networks will be ready faster.

Most work on DSRC has focused on active safety issues such as crash avoidance using driver alerts based on sophisticated sensing and vehicle communications. “One advantage in the US market is that DSRC has a significant head-start,” said Brian Wassom, a lawyer with Warner, Norcross & Judd. “It is the technology being used by pilot projects across the country and is prescribed by federal regulators.”

Wassom noted the 2017 Cadillac CTS sedan, the first mass-market vehicle to include V2V capability, uses DSRC technology and the technology also enjoys strong support from the trade association Global Automakers, in which Honda, Nissan and Toyota participate. “Proponents of DSRC will likely build on the head-start they already have by securing commitments from as many other companies as possible to implement the technology,” he said. “Experience across many tech sectors shows that being first to market often translates into market advantage out of sheer inertia, if nothing else.”

Backing the tech, Brian Lyons, Toyota Motor North America’s senior manager for advanced technology communications, told TU-Automotive: “We strongly support DSRC technology because it is the only proven and available technology for collision avoidance communications.” Lyons argued DSRC offers the best chance for reaching a consensus for wide-scale interoperable V2X deployment in the near term, explaining DSRC is also following an evolution path that preserves interoperability.

“That means that today’s vehicles will be able to communicate, and support safety applications, with vehicles deployed in the years to come even as the communication continues to improve,” he said. “Unlike other technology options, DSRC is proven and readily available to enable safety, mobility, environmental and automation applications.”

However, American automaker Ford recently announced that it would start building cellular to V2X (C-V2X) into new models starting in 2022 and chipmaker Qualcomm has emerged as a vocal proponent of the approach having worked on a pilot project with Ford and supporting similar trials in China, Korea and Europe. “DSRC has technical limitations when compared to C-V2X, such as range and the inability to communicate with other protocols,” said Juniper senior analyst Sam Barker. However, the biggest reason in which automakers are beginning to favor C-V2X is the impending release of commercial 5G networks.

Barker said 5G would have superior capabilities to DSRC, including lower latency, which he said would significantly improve the speed in which vehicles can apply emergency braking systems based on information from other vehicles. “Additionally, 5G will allow for further integration with the Internet of Things, specifically future smart city initiatives,” he noted.

From a consumer cost perspective, Barker noted that because DSRC is based on WiFi standards it does not require a monthly fee to operators for the connectivity reducing the revenue generating potential of the technology. “With DSRC, OEMs do not need to pass any recurring cost from any cellular connection to the owner of the vehicle,” he said. Barker predicted carmakers would be likely to include the cost of 5G into recurring monthly subscriptions for in-vehicle services to increase the value proposition of 5G connections in vehicles.

As the competition for market share accelerates, Barker said he thought a dual system comprised of DSRC and C-V2X platforms would be unlikely because the capabilities of 5G networks would “more than suffice” for the needs of current and future V2X services. However, he admitted: “We do envisage some support to remain for the use of DSRC over the next 12 months owing to the high cost of cellular connections and the current unavailability of 5G connections.”

Juniper anticipates automakers will begin introducing 5G into new vehicle models next year and in this context Barker said DSRC can be viewed as a technology that will enable V2X services until the allegedly “superior” 5G networks are available. He also conceded that DSRC would likely remain popular among some carmakers owing to its low cost. “However, we predict that cellular communications will continue to be used among Tier 1 automotive OEMs, with preparations already underway for introducing 5G networks in the next range of new vehicle models,” he said.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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