5G critical to the growing connected car market

Uwe Pützschler
December 7, 2020

The freedom of the open road has been cherished by many people for decades, yet with increasing environmental pollution, growing road accidents and the sheer waste of time spent in traffic jams, it’s no wonder people are beginning to re-think how we get around. Many of us are hoping that automated driving and connected cars will help address some of these issues. In fact, the automotive industry already accepts that vehicles will need to communicate with each other, as well as with roadside infrastructure and network services, to keep traffic safe, efficient and comfortable.

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Side View Of A Young Woman Sitting In Self Driving Modern Car

One of the big challenges in making the connected car a part of our everyday lives is that the automotive and telecommunications industries must work closely together to make it a reality alongside telco service providers, equipment manufacturers, car manufacturers, map providers and road operators and many others. To kick-start this eco-system, the leading car manufacturers and telecommunications companies, including Nokia, founded the “5G Automotive Association” (5GAA) in 2016.

Global market analysis from Omdia outlined that there will be 180 million connected vehicles on our roads by the end of 2020 with this number growing rapidly. Indeed, all new cars are expected to be connected by 2022 using cellular connectivity and supporting cloud-based telematics, infotainment and other services to improve comfort and safety. This connectivity will allow vehicles to interact with the cloud, with each other and with the road infrastructure – making roads safer, allowing traffic to flow more easily and making driving more comfortable.

Some manufacturers already use mobile networks to warn their own cars about congested roads, broken down vehicles, accidents or bad weather, a method known as vehicle to network (V2N). Now projects are underway in several European countries to exchange warnings between vehicles of different manufacturers. The industry recognises that the processing of rapidly growing volumes of sensors and other data needs to happen as close to the vehicles as possible. This can be enabled by edge cloud which increases the reliability and security of network services for connected cars and reduces the latency and can also enable new applications.

At the same time, LTE based short range communication which is an important element of the 3GPP C-V2X (Cellular-V2X) technology has become a reality and tested in large areas, such as China and the US. Several on-board units and RSU products with LTE V2X technology have become commercially available. The combination of both short range and network-based communication (V2N) provided by C-V2X is a powerful instrument to address the needs of the automotive industry as well as the road operators.   

5G boosts benefits for connected vehicles

The introduction of 5G New Radio (based on 3GPP Release 15 specification) enables higher data rates and lower latencies for V2N network communications. The first deployments in commercial vehicles are expected to start as early as 2021. The following 5G phase (3GPP Release 16), expected to happen from 2023 onwards, will provide even lower latency and high reliability to support V2V (Vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) type communication, often referred to as 5G-V2X.

This offers key features that support higher levels of cooperative automated driving. A recent 5GAA white paper looked at the new functions it makes possible, including areas such sharing sensor data, such as video from the car in front; control information to allow vehicles to drive in close formation, saving road space; exchanging vehicle trajectories to prevent collisions and protecting vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. These advanced examples of V2V and V2I communications are clearly only feasible thanks to 5G technology. Although the physical radio layers of LTE releases and 5G NR are very different, the chipsets and associated communication stacks will integrate the different radio technologies, supporting smooth operation and backward compatibility of services.

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Busy highway at Yanzhong Park from aerial view. Shanghai. China

Nokia has played key role in these connected vehicle test projects focused on the verification of 5G based new network capabilities and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) to support the advanced needs of automotive related use cases. The first MEC based use cases was held in 2015 with Deutsche Telekom at the National German test bed motorway A9 with partners Continental and Fraunhofer. Since then tests have been extended to more complex use cases in various countries with other partners around the globe such as in Japan, China and Germany. The ongoing EU funded projects such as 5G Carmen includes the analysis and verification of functions distributed between edge clouds deployed in networks of different operators even across borders. In the MEC-VIEW project Edge computing is used to complement local information generated by sensors in the vehicle with information generated by road side cameras with the objective to support automated driving in challenging urban situations.

5G technology elements have been in the focus of other projects like the EU financed 5GCar focused on testing coordinated lane merge, the cooperative perception of connected vehicles and protection of vulnerable road users. Nokia, together with Seat, Telefonica, FICOSA and other partners also tested Vulnerable road discovery in Segoviav – utilizing MEC. The 5G NetMobil project included the use of network slicing technology to support different Quality of Service (QoS) requirements when vehicles use communication infotainment and safety critical applications in parallel. Nokia has also supported SoftBank with the construction of a 5G verification environment for connected vehicles at Honda Research and Development site in Japan.

With several industries on board, driven by the telecom and automotive industries, the connected car is really going places. However, the global commercialisation of connected automated driving will not only depend on the successful verification and introduction of technologies in networks, vehicles and road infrastructure. New business and cooperation models between the ecosystem partners will have to be developed and complemented with the evolution of the regulatory framework related to driving, data handling and management. This is an industry challenge that we will solve by working closely and collaboratively with our ecosystem partners.

Uwe Pützschler, Head of Automotive & Mobility Solutions, Nokia and Vice-Chair of the 5G Automotive Association

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