Europe Working on Cross-Border 5G for Driverless Vehicles

There are an increasing number of European Union projects working on making 5G feasible to operate connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) across international and national borders.

However, standardized connectivity and roaming charges remain as being among the greatest potential challenges in some markets. These issues could present themselves as being obstacles to the proper, efficient and safe function of CAVs – not just in Europe but also in other parts of the world where regulations, roaming policies and connectivity standards often widely differ.

Caroline Bergmann, spokesperson for Deutsche Telekom, comments: “Until there is seamless connectivity, a number of challenges still need to be overcome. This refers to legal, organizational and also technical aspects. For cross-border connectivity, all EU telecoms companies need to work together.”

5GCroCo and 5GCarmen

One project is 5GCroCo that has attracted €17M ($16.91M) of funding from the EU. The principal tech partners of the project with the EU are Deutsche Telekom and Ericsson. There is also, as highlighted by Bergmann, the 5GCarmen project. She says they were designed as research and development projects to develop, test and verify the basic principles of seamless mobility in cross-border traffic. Deutsche Telekom has participated in both projects.

She adds: “We will now start deploying selected cross-border connections with selected EU telecom partners based on the results. These selected deployments will serve as a blueprint for further cross-border seamless handovers to ensure seamless mobility in the EU. Mobile edge computing (MEC) plays an important role in low-latency services.”

“For example, for Cooperative, connected and automated mobility (CCAM) services or intelligent transport systems (ITS). A prerequisite for the continuity of MEC services is seamless mobility (see above). Therefore, seamless mobility is the basis for the use of MEC-based services also in cross-border situations.”

Market adaptations

Magnus Gunnarsson, head of connected vehicle at Ericsson, adds that by definition the automotive industry is a global enterprise. This means their vehicles need to be able to operate and be engineered, as well as built, in different countries right across the world. To ensure they can do so, automotive manufacturers often have to make small or significant market adaptations to each product.  He doesn’t foresee any great change in this practice with regard to “the introduction of technology and software for fully, or partially self-driving vehicles”.

As for connectivity, he says mobile network technology is fairly standardized across countries and regions to permit smartphones, for example, to work seamlessly whenever someone is travelling across national or international borders. He doesn’t predict any change whenever it comes to CAV, or what he calls ‘smartphones on wheels.’ He adds: “On the regulatory environment we do not yet know how the legal framework around autonomous vehicles will be developed and then harmonized across countries.”

Network-switching challenges

So, what are the challenges of switching 5G connections between countries and to what extent does artificial intelligence play a role in this process? Gunnarsson explains that the key challenge is to prevent any delay in the connection whenever someone or a vehicle crosses a border from Country A to Country B.

He adds: “From a technological perspective this has been trialed and tested by 5GCroCo. The process is fully automated, without ‘human touch’. I’m not aware if there is a machine learning component included. Needless to say, there is also a business model development needed which would involve. a set-up where automakers and mobility services provider reach agreements with connectivity providers to deliver a harmonized and uninterrupted service across countries and networks.”  

High performance networks

Key to the need to avoid connectivity delay is safety. To operate and function safely, efficiently and correctly, CAVs are going to be reliant on high performance mobile network technology – namely, at the moment, 5G. Part of the answer is to reduce and minimize latency. He said: “From the Ericsson side we have been involved in projects that now raises the bar to very low latency (~20mS) for connected, semi self-drive vehicles in highway applications. With such low latency times, the cloud infrastructure will need to be grouped together or very close to the mobile network as a mobile network edge.”

Cross industry forums

As to why there are so many projects involved with doing much the same trials, Gunnarsson confesses that he does have detailed insight into how the different project groups are co-operating. However, Ericsson supports cross industry forums such as 5GAA- 5G Automotive Association and AECC Edge Compute Consortium as he says they have a role to play harmonizing the industries perspectives such as automotive, telco and cloud.

In conclusion, he forecasts how technology will allow CAVs to operate without EU and other borders over the next five years. In fact, he predicts that the technology and regulatory development will be great over this period. There will be the introduction of new self-driving platforms from the passenger carmakers in the coming year such as Daimler, Volkswagen and Volvo. Similarly, there will be the introduction of self-driving commercial vehicles from the likes of Einride, Tesla-semi, Daimler and Volvo. He also believes that “the issues on how to manage the technology, how to regulate it and how to operate across borders will be further highlighted” in a way that resolves any of the current issues.

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