Digitisation is driving the most significant period of change in the automotive industry since the introduction of the moving assembly line in 1913.
Today, millions of cars use mobile networks for a variety of services. Real-time traffic information, vehicle system updates and emergency facilities, such as the eCall service which helps alert rescue services in an accident, all rely on fast mobile connectivity.
And the rate of innovation is rapidly increasing: the automotive industry is already exploring how data analytics and AI technology can improve the driver experience and a car’s performance, undoubtedly a pre-cursor to the arrival of autonomous vehicles on our roads.
While it’s likely to be a decade before cars without drivers are commonplace, connected cars are already transforming the way we think about transport. And given rapid advances in technology, rules and regulations are essential.
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However, a balance needs to be struck: while rules and regulations should establish service requirements to keep people safe, they should also nurture and encourage innovation. The industry needs freedom to introduce a range of technologies that will help the EU achieve its transport goals.
Therefore, despite the European Commission’s emphasis on taking a “hybrid communications approach” in its Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) strategy published in 2016, it’s concerning that just two years later the principle of technological neutrality appears to be no longer adhered to by the European Commission.
As it stands today, the Delegated Act being developed by European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport under the ITS Directive rules out the use of recent cellular-based technology called Cellular-V2X (C-V2X), specifying a single-purpose Wi-Fi technology (called ITS-G5), for vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-road-infrastructure and vehicle-to-control-centre interactions (V2X).
While it is heartening to see that DG Connect has recently launched a public consultation on a future Recommendation on connected automated driving – including guidance on the use of pioneer spectrum for 5G connectivity for large scale testing – we are concerned that we are headed for a Delegated Act that would effectively lock the automotive ecosystem into old Wi-Fi technology.
Recent testing has shown the superior performance of C-V2X relevant to non-cellular ITS technology.
Wi-Fi also has no relationship to existing cellular infrastructure, nor will it be compatible with 5G, which provides the best of both worlds: direct short-range communication in unlicensed bands and long-range communication with 4G and 5G. C-V2X also facilitates ad-hoc vehicle communication in situations with no cellular coverage.
Since the ITS Directive was adopted in 2010, which provided the framework for the deployment of applications relevant to safe and smart transport networks in the EU, there appears to have been little deployment of such applications via Wi-Fi technology beyond the limited scope of a larger number of research projects and field operation test projects.
Limited adoption is not the only reason that the EU should be less prescriptive:
First, backing the use of Wi-Fi alone appears to run counter to trends in China and the USA, where cellular technology is emerging as a strong candidate for connecting vehicles. This could put the EU at a disadvantage: European manufacturers would have to incorporate different technologies for export and they could be isolated from global distribution and innovation efforts.
Second, by excluding cellular technologies from short-range, the transportation and telecommunication industries have much less incentive to invest in 5G along roads. This would stunt the deployment of 5G connectivity infrastructure in Europe, and run counter to the objectives of the Commission’s own 5G action plan to promote early deployment of 5G along transport routes.
Third, there have already been significant investments in cellular technologies by companies in Europe and around the world. There are C-V2X technology trials in Germany, France, Spain, United Kingdom, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States, and global commercial launch is expected by 2020.
Fourth, one of the aims of the European Commission’s transport strategy is to reduce road fatalities and serious injuries. Of the nearly 25,300 road fatalities and the 135,000 serious injuries in the EU last year, many were vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. A lot of these road users carry mobile devices and C-V2X offers a native solution that could be used on a variety of devices, including smartphones, which would allow them to realise the safety benefits of intelligent transport systems.
Finally, C-V2X is part of the 5G roadmap and thereby part of a large and rapidly evolving ecosystem. This ensures a sustainable technology evolution path. In contrast, Wi-Fi is a single-purpose technology, demanding significant investments for its deployment and for continuous maintenance.
It’s not surprising that organisations that have invested in Wi-Fi technology since 2010 would prefer that cellular technologies take a back seat so they can protect their investment. However, it would be a shame if the vested interests of the few prevented new technologies emerging which would benefit the many.
The Commission’s Delegated Act is now being reviewed more widely across the full Commission, before being scrutinised by European Parliament and the European Council. We urge European policymakers to adopt a technology neutral approach towards connected car legislation.
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