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Connection via 5G cellular will enable vehicles to send huge volumes of data to each other and the cloud. (Harman)

5G cellular may be transformational for automakers, suppliers

Connected vehicles are going mainstream, autonomous vehicles are poised to emerge—and cellular communications appears to be a central infrastructural base for both. The rollout of long-ballyhooed 5G technology is expected to become a central enabler for automated-driving functionality, laying the groundwork for—and possibly dramatically altering—the way car companies bring in revenue.

5G will deliver far higher bandwidths and far shorter latencies, letting automakers bring in more data and use cellular for some safety-related vehicle-to-everything (V2X) features. These capabilities have sparked the creative juices of planners who unsurprisingly see many benefits in data collected from vehicles and passengers.

“Cloud-based services will be important,” said Patrick Koller, CEO of industry interiors giant Faurecia, at CES 2019. “Whatever information we can gather about wellness can be used, that data might be usable by other industries, insurers may give something for that. When people sit in autonomous cars for a long time, companies can collect a lot of data.”

There’s plenty of incentive for collecting that data. Automakers have essentially daily access to millions of consumers and many companies want information on what those potential shoppers do in their vehicles. As the industry shifts to autonomous transportation, OEMs may well find it’s financially viable to collect data and sell goods and services to passengers.

“Monetizing services is a way for automakers to get away from margins of 8%,” said Ami Dotan, CEO at Karamba Security. “People want to go from point A to point B with the experience they have in their living room. Automotive companies can make more money on services over time.”

The arrival of 5G cellular technologies may be a boon for OEMs and suppliers who help in data collection and distribution. Both telephone and automotive 5G programs will roll out over the next few years, with the likelihood that 5G coverage will be fairly wide before automotive telephony programs start creating huge volumes of data.

But many emergent communications programs don’t need additional bandwidth. For example, cellular-V2X will start out using 4G links. But the transition to 5G’s high-bandwidth capabilities will facilitate the extensive communications needed for autonomy and many other features and functions. 

“First-generation 5G (Release 15) will not significantly improve C-V2X,” said Brett Stark, Senior Portfolio Manager, Connected Vehicles for Continental North America. “The next generation (R16), perhaps with a 2024/2025 start of production, will improve C-V2X with use of 5G New Radio for C-V2X use cases, enabling more-advanced scenarios. 5G will offer enhanced vehicle-to-vehicle communication compared to 4G V2X, including such advanced cases as teleoperated driving and cooperative maneuvers.”

By the time vehicles with high-level automation are commonplace, 5G should have enough geographic coverage to provide both infotainment and navigational assistance. Vehicle occupants can view entertainment that can be personalized much like commercial-aircraft infotainment. Data collected from vehicle cameras, meanwhile, can be collated to create maps that show real-time changes such as accidents and temporary construction sites.

“Higher bandwidth can improve user experience around a variety of infotainment use cases, like video streaming into the vehicle,” Stark said. “5G will allow higher upload and download bandwidths and enable larger and higher resolution map tiles to be uploaded and downloaded as needed. This would include predicted routes to improve the guidance experience.”

Cellular links also can enable vehicles to help consumers shop and make arrangements. If the driver tells the vehicle it’s mealtime, ads may come in, allowing drivers to make reservations or even place an order. For shopping and V2X signals that have fiscal or safety implications, cybersecurity will be a major issue. Many specialists believe all communications will have to be stored using techniques such as blockchain, which ensures that information in messages isn’t tamperable.

“Trusted IDs will be a huge piece of the future—platforms have to be able to trust inputs,” said Sarah Carlson, a Partner at IBM Global Business Services. “Blockchain will have to happen.”

All these changes won’t come easily. Strategic planners will have to forge agreements with a range of suppliers. As importantly, myriad engineering decisions will be based on the efficacy of communication technologies. Design teams will have to develop scalable architectures that meet current needs and adapt to changes that will occur over vehicle lifetimes.

“Connectivity determines the type of architecture that can be deployed in the vehicles, such as gateways, smart antennas, mobile virtual network operators and carrier agnostic connectivity platforms,” said Vishnu Sundaram, Vice President at Harman’s Telematics Business Unit and a Board Member for the 5G Automotive Association. “Features that will support autonomous driving such as real-time mapping, traffic, weather, parking and remote-control features, as well as C-V2X, will require reliable connections with low latency. 5G will enable the automakers to implement these features and more.”

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