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Ford, Audi and other automakers have backed the cellular-based vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communications protocol, although there remains ambiguity about whether and when it will become the de facto global standard. (Ford)

The Navigator: As the world turns to C-V2X, Europe picks WiFi

Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications is a relatively straightforward and inexpensive technology that has the potential to reduce crashes by improving driver situational awareness. Compared to the automated-driving technology that most of the industry is rushing to develop, V2X is cheap and can even be retrofitted to existing vehicles. Despite these and other benefits, V2X has not yet been rolled out globally amid a new technology-standards battle.

Until a few years ago, a WiFi variant known as 802.11p was the preferred V2X technology solution. Commonly known as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) in North America and Asia, 802.11p carries both the ‘pWLAN’ and C-ITS labels in Europe. Toyota was the first automaker to deploy it on selected models in Japan from late 2015 and Cadillac added it to the CTS in North America in 2017.

However, the long-anticipated vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) mandate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn’t come out until late 2016. Following the change of administration in Washington, no further action has been taken on what would have been a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, FMVSS 150.

While DSRC was stuck in a holding pattern, Qualcomm, Huawei and other companies were developing an alternative—C-V2X—that’s based on cellular technology. Now there were two competing technologies. Most automakers weighed their options and, faced with a not-unexpected lack of clarity from regulators, elected to wait on the sidelines.

In spring 2018, Toyota announced its intention to deploy DSRC across its North American lineup from 2021, in hopes of enticing the rest of the industry to follow suit. That didn’t happen. At CES 2019, Ford announced it would deploy C-V2X from 2022. With no other automaker committing to DSRC, Toyota recently announced that it would suspend its deployment plans.

Currently it appears unlikely that there will be any further DSRC adoption in North America unless mandated by NHTSA. In my view, that would be unlikely, at least through the duration of the Trump administration. China, the world’s largest auto market, also is leaning toward adopting C-V2X.

What about Europe? Despite support for C-V2X from Audi, Ford and PSA among others, the European Parliament recently passed a regulation that would mandate C-ITS on new vehicles beginning in the early 2020s. This would make the European Union the only region with a regulation mandating V2X communications based on 802.11p.

With the industry and/or regulators in most of the other major markets now leaning toward C-V2X, it looks likely Europe will be mostly alone with this technology, aside from some adoption in Japan and South Korea. If the European C-ITS rules go into effect, it seems likely that it will be only for a transitional period.

Vendors such as AutoTalks already are sampling global V2X chipsets that support both 802.11p and C-V2X; NXP announced a wide-band WiFi chipset that supports both traditional WiFi bands and 802.11p.

With both WiFi and cellular data expected to become standard on almost all new vehicles by the early 2020s, it’s a good bet that most vehicles will be able to easily support both systems. A shift to C-V2X in Europe seems probable by the end of the decade.

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