PARIS—When the Mobile World Congress convenes later this month, the cellular industry will be busy pitching a yet-to-be-defined fifth-generation (5G) cellular standard as all things to all people (and all industries) including cars.
The cellular industry’s 5G claim for supporting less-than-2 millisecond-latency for mission critical uses illustrates the industry’s great expectations to extend their network reach far beyond smartphones to the Internet of Everything including cars.
Carmakers' actual readiness for 5G is entirely another story, however.
More important, industry observers note that the “5G for automotive” pitch tells more about the cellular industry’s need to grab more spectrum than promoting safety on the road.
In essence, cell operators want to use Wi-Fi and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) based on IEEE 802.11p standard, and any other spectrum they snag. They’re worried about meeting future wireless streaming demand, and they’re not concerned about what might happen to current (Wi-Fi) or emerging (DSRC) applications.
DSRC is based on wireless communication channels specifically designed for automotive use. It uses a region of the 5.9 GHz band set aside by the U.S. Congress in 1999. It’s the unlicensed frequency also used by WiFi.
Not everyone agrees that cell operators are doing a power grab. Roger Lanctot, associate director, global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, suspects that the crux of the issue is an on-going dispute between automakers and wireless carriers. “The intelligent transportation community tends to turn up its nose at the wireless carriers,” said Lanctot. “The car companies continue to be horribly conflicted over connecting cars – primarily over the ‘why.’ Wireless carriers struggle to get excited over inter-device/inter-vehicle communications that they cannot directly monetize.”
Egil Juliussen, director research & principal analyst at IHS Automotive Technology stressed that the auto industry is “not ready for 5G.” Carmakers are “just now getting serious about deploying 4G,” he noted.
As for V2X, the wireless communication technologies currently available to the automotive industry include DSRC, with latency (speed of message delivery) of about 1 millisecond, and 4G whose latency is about 20 milliseconds, according to Scott McCormick, president of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA).
Is 5G a “game changer”?
McCormick said 5G “could be a game changer.” Initial analysis indicates 5G latency well under 2 milliseconds. “So it might be possible to use 5G to replace DSRC, [but only] if you’re willing to pay a carrier for some [5G] data plan,” he added.
That’s a caveat nobody can ignore. As Juliussen pointed out, mobile network operators “want the DSRC spectrum for their own spectrum use and to make money. [But] DSRC is a life-saving technology that should not depend on whether you paid your wireless bill.”
Andrew Turley, head of the Innovation & V2X Program at NXP Semiconductors agreed. “We’d rather see the cellular operators make 802.11p and WiFi a part of the 5G standard, rather than rebuilding everything for 5G,” he said.
Talking up 5G’s mission-critical low-latency feature as ideal for self-driving cars would surely make the coming standard look not just futuristic but even sexy.
As with any new standard, the path to 5G is fraught with challenges especially when it’s applied to different industries’ business models.
In the following pages, we’ll break down pros and cons of various connectivity options both currently available and proposed/promised for the automotive industry, and the hurdles 5G proponents need to clear.
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