Connected Vehicles are Safest When they are Cellular

As the Internet of Things has gone from theory to reality, connected vehicles – those which can communicate with each other, with outside services, and with us – have become among its most keenly discussed features. The implications of such vehicles for safety, convenience, efficiency and entertainment are plainly vast. How they will actually accomplish these gains on a technical level, is now one of the main topics of consideration in the ecosystem around connected vehicles. The most recent and advanced mode of such connectivity – Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X – was the subject of last week’s Connected and Automated Driving Workshop in Berlin.

Hosted by the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), and bringing together representatives from leading players in automotive, security, technical research and the mobile industry, the conference considered the present shared strategies and challenges of the connected mobility sector, and a range of demos showing what C-V2X can now do for connected driving. Leading operators and their partners including Ford, Deutsche Telekom, Huawei, Jaguar Land Rover, Nokia and Vodafone gathered to showcase safety and navigation demonstrations based on C-V2X, and consider how these can best be deployed at scale.

C-V2X allows connectivity via mobile networks, and thereby the greatest degree of safety, flexibility and cost-effectiveness available. The technology underpinning C-V2X is already in place – so there’s no need either to install new infrastructure, or fund further rounds of first-gen R&D – and it will have reached the mass market by next year. Huawei’s recent successful trials of C-V2X in the Chinese city of Wuxi, for instance, illustrates that C-VX2 is now well on the way to full commercial viability; it is therefore the technology of choice for automotive manufacturers with an interest in this space and their partners, providing the best of all worlds among the available options.

Among the key advantages of C-V2X over its primary alternative DSRC/802.11p – which is based on Wi-Fi – is the ability to combine short-range and long-range communications. The ubiquity of mobile networks gives them the range to service not only motorways but smaller tributary roads where the majority of accidents occur. This enables communication between, for instance, vehicles and traffic lights, as one demo by BMW showed in Berlin: where drivers can monitor the current status and change time of traffic lights they can better anticipate when to slow and accelerate. An onboard Qualcomm unit communicating with a SWARCO traffic signal via Savari’s ITS software leads to fewer sudden stops, which makes not only for safer roads but cleaner air, as fuel inefficiency is significantly mitigated.

Blending direct short-range communications with longer range communications via cellular networks brings the maximum possible flexibility to situations where either or both may be needed unpredictably. Combined Collision Avoidance for instance means drivers could prevent a possible crash while outside each other’s line of sight: where objects or terrain prevent drivers from seeing one another, but their paths are set to cross, warnings to slow down can be sent via a mobile network; as they come into one another’s immediate vicinity signals can then be sent directly between vehicles to avoid latency. Combined Collision Avoidance was the purpose of one demonstration by Vodafone, Huawei and Jaguar Land Rover at the 5GAA Connected and Automated Driving Workshop, highlighting the unique capability of C-V2X of combining short-range with longer range communication via mobile networks to further increase safety for connected vehicles.

Safety is of course paramount on the road, and therefore naturally dominate the use case demonstrated in Berlin. Daimler and Huawei showcased a new mode of brake alert which doesn’t rely on motion sensors, instead enjoying the low latency and reliability of mobile networks via C-2VX. The blocking of emergency vehicles can prove fatal – and is frequently avoidable where drivers have the information they need in a timely fashion. Vodafone and Ford are therefore testing a new alert system, eCall Plus, which uses C-V2X to alert drivers that an accident has occurred within moments, and that emergency vehicles are approaching. Drivers are therefore quickly aware, for instance, of which side of the road they need to be on to avoid obstructing incoming blue-light services. A comparable mode of emergency alert via C-V2X was on show from Deutsche Telekom, Nokia and their partners, which enables for instance high-definition map distribution within milliseconds, using Multi-Access Edge Computing to avoid latency.

Safety was also the focus of a recent letter from the GSMA’s Director General Mats Granryd, who wrote to the European Parliament to stress the shortcomings of Delegated Act C-ITS, which favours outdated Wi-Fi technology in connected mobility through 802.11p. An upcoming vote will decide on whether to affirm an earlier objection uphold by the European Transport Committee, which identified the risks to safety and performance implicit in tying Europe’s connected traffic to antiquated technology. The mobile industry, particularly in Europe, will anticipate the vote with interest and some concern. For the gains made possible by C-V2X’s reliability, range, flexibility and low cost to materialise in full, it must be an option on the table for those who want to use it – and the evidence is mounting that it is indeed the technology of choice for automotive manufacturers. In short, for Europe’s roads to be as safe and well-managed as possible, the principle of technological neutrality will, we hope, be observed in this important case.