Russia Torn Between East And West in Auto Connectivity

The majority of Russian first responders were connected to fleet telematic solutions in the past ten years thus reducing response time by up to 50% from the pre-connectivity era.

Then in 2016 the emergency response system ERA-GLONASS, a local eCall twin, had cut this time again. Now the government aims another 20% improvement through the V2X potential. Connected and driverless vehicles will automatically get warned about an emergency vehicle coming from behind and move out of its way.

Its probable that Western readers have never heard about the Eurasian Digital Road. Even the local authorities rarely use the official name for their V2X initiative. Unlike driverless tech programs where every advantage is released with hype, the local connectivity system has so far been developed quietly.

The regulators had a go at producing some buzz in this area after release of the updated version of the new mobility road map Avtonet in 2018. Some of their claims were quite bold, like making V2X a part of Russian citizens’ daily life as of 2025, as cited by the news agency Russia Today. Perhaps too bold, because the National Technological Initiative, the coordinator of the V2X program, slipped into the shadows when approached for a concrete comment by this correspondent, explaining they “were not ready”.

Yet, some interesting details emerged in the conversations with developers Huawei and Fort Telecom. For instance, Russia may choose a technology neutral approach in the epic battle between DSRC and C-V2X standards. “In our view, using them together is the optimal approach,” says Vladimir Makarenko, Fort Telecom’s business development director. “From the technical point of view, a two-in-one solution might solve the problem of unification between different zones.”

This is said at the same time as China is deploying C-V2X in Shanghai highways and the European Union is speeding towards accepting DSRC as the region-wide standard. The choice is hard because Russia borders with China in the east and EU in the west, keeping tight relations with both. The technology neutral approach seems a convenient option.

Still Huawei, which stands behind China’s program, is insisting on Russia choosing C-V2X because it “is optimal for Russia just like for the whole world” according to Igor Akulinin, Huawei’s chief business consultant in Russia. “С-V2X contains both mobile connectivity, LTE and later 5G, and connections via PC5.”

The Russian strategy as described in the road map states that both DSRC and C-V2X will be tried in permanent pilot zones on federal motorways in 2019-2025. Makarenko says that the pilots are currently running mostly on DSRC but upon release of numerous C-V2X chips “we will witness active shift to that side. In our company we are developing RSUs and OBUs supporting both standards.”

When the pilots are done, deployment will start with installation of 31K road-side units (RSU) along federal motorways, then in bigger interjections and traffic lights, with consequent legislative requirement to install on-board units (OBU) in all new vehicles. The scheme described by Makarenko leaves rural areas and minor streets to use existing cellular networks for connectivity of vehicles.

The networks in question are still in the early phase of transition from GSM mobile networks (2G/3G) to LTE with 65% of base stations still belonging to GSM, down 8% from the previous year. The vast majority of existing telematic, remote security, automatic toll collection and emergency response systems are designed to use GSM standard. Accelerated transition to 4G and then to 5G networks would be a sensible financial burden for mobile operators and end users, believes Maxim Savvatin, analyst at iKS-Consulting: “We still haven’t reached 100% GSM coverage.”

One of the opportunities is to start with the more affordable LTE-V2X infrastructure together with GSM/LTE cellular networks. “To clear the way for an emergency vehicle you don’t need 5G,” he says. “The whole set of latency and bandwidth requirements can satisfy those needs with existing GSM and 4G mobile networks. Thus, full V2X system is unlikely to be widely deployed in 2025. It is simply not demanded by the market.” The transition of mobile networks from 4G to 5G is expected to start in 2020-2022 and the technology will reach commercially attractive phase in 2023-2025.

As to autonomous transport, which requires more advanced networks whether DSRC or 5G, it is not expected to play a significant role before the late 2020s. “5G is very distant horizons,” Savvatin believes. “In transportation [in the near future] it will be limited to certain small zones of the big motorways.”

However, the government might put non-economic reasons first and execute the nation-wide V2X program in spite of possible resistance from business, as it happened when ERA-GLONASS and electronic toll collection systems were introduced. Savvatin says: “Deployment of such digital technologies usually happens fast because the government is making considerable investments into digitalization and regional authorities compete for winning the largest share of these budgets.”


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