There was, as usual, a lot of attention to vehicle technology at the 2023 Consumer Electronic show. But among the flurry of announcements, demos and events, there was precious little news about vehicle-to-everything (V2X). Which made me wonder, where are we with V2X and, particularly, how might that impact the mobile ecosystem in the near-to-medium term? The punchline? We’re behind where we thought we’d be, but the next two years are critical in terms of investment/deployment decisions. Some of the 5G/MEC opportunities that were going to be driven by the development of autonomous vehicles or AV features are a bit further down the road.
A quick primer/update
Historically, the connected-car market has been referred to as “telematics” for fleets or in-vehicle modems used for information, entertainment, diagnostics and over-the-air updates. V2X is the more modern incarnation. Within the V2X umbrella are four components: V2N (vehicle-to-network); V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure); V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle); and V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian).
The term C-V2X refers to vehicles that use cellular networks. There are two flavors here. Uu Mode, also referred to as V2N, is in 3GPP 5G NR Release 15 and uses the mobile network. Direct Mode, also referred to as PC5/Sidelink, is in Release 16 and uses the harmonized 5.9 GHz ITS band. V2N uses in-vehicle 4G or 5G modems, often connected through an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot. Direct Mode is for short-range V2I, V2V, and V2P device-to-device communications and requires vehicles to be equipped with a 5.9 GHz modem.
A reason we’re one to two years behind where we thought we’d be with C-V2X is the protracted decision about whether to use 802.11-based DSRC or C-V2X for short-range communication. The decision was made to use cellular, and to allocate 30 MHz of the 75 MHz in the 5.9 GHz ITS for V2X (and 45 MHz to Wi-Fi, which the auto industry is not happy about). The final Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) from the FCC is expected this year. The uncertainty as to direction and timeframe has, naturally, caused a delay in the auto OEMs making commitments to equip vehicles with 5.9 GHz modems.
Today, about 50%-60% of vehicles in North America are equipped with a cellular modem. Most new vehicles are still being shipped with LTE modems. The next couple of years are critical in terms of auto OEM decisions. This pertains to equipping more vehicles with 5G modems, as well as with 5.9 GHz modems. Importantly, Qualcomm is now making chips that support both Direct Mode and UuMode. Remember, vehicle planning cycles are long. Commitments made in 2023 might only start showing up in 2025 or 2026 models.
Among the U.S. operators, AT&T is the clear market leader, with some 60 million connected cars on the road and agreements with most of the major auto OEMs, most notably GM and Ford. AT&T has said it will start equipping vehicles with 5G modems in 2024, but has not publicly committed to numbers or anything in the broader C-V2X realm.
Verizon is a distant second in the auto market. It’s emphasizing a combination of 5G, MEC and relationships with cloud providers for low latency C-V2X. Verizon recently announced a deal with Audi to equip vehicles with 5G modems starting with 2024 models for advanced connectivity and in-vehicle Wi-Fi. T-Mobile is also now in the market, having recently announced Magenta Drive for BMW: 5G equipped cars, with some advanced calling features and special antenna designs for improved connectivity.
From an industry perspective, Qualcomm is a major force in the C-V2X market and is driving a large number of initiatives on a global basis. Its commitment can be seen in the number of vehicle-related announcements it made at the 2023 CES. Another key player is the Munich-based 5G Automotive Association, which has relationships across the telecom and automotive ecosystems. It has published detailed use case reports and has lobbied for spectrum set-asides across the globe.
What’s the roadmap for new use cases?
The next two to three years should see the start of what I call the “next phase” of C-V2X. There are three areas to keep our eyes on.
V2N, Using 5G Networks. As cars equipped with 5G modems start to ramp in the 2025-26 timeframe, there will be enhanced versions of what we currently experience with connected cars in the areas of entertainment, information, navigation and OTA updates. Things will be faster and better, but nothing game-changing here. Sort of like what 5G has been for most of us, so far!
V2N could also become a showcase for 5G Edge/MEC and for network slicing. For example, slicing could be used to ensure that network performance is prioritized for automotive applications, particularly in the safety arena.
V2I. In V2I, cars equipped with NR V2X direct mode can communicate with roadside units (RSUs) and other public infrastructure. There are lots of use cases here for improvements in safety and traffic efficiency, such as traffic signal prioritization. This is one of the more exciting potential areas of C-V2X, even though it won’t necessarily directly benefit the service providers. The challenge here is getting municipalities to make the requisite investments in a way that scales. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in the smart cities arena.
China is an interesting bellwether here – and is a good two to three years ahead of the United States. Nearly 90 cities have already partnered with local wireless network operators, deploying tens of thousands of roadside units to demonstrate intelligent highways and urban intelligent networked roads. This shows why there must be some form of national planning for V2I to be more than just spot solutions.
Advanced Safety and Automated Driving. It’s become clear that the nirvana of the truly autonomous vehicle, where you get to read a book or watch a movie while your car whisks you to your destination, is further off than we thought. But that’s not to say there won’t be a steady march of more automated/autonomous features. For example, in the 2026-27 timeframe, we could see some tele-operated driving for autonomous vehicles in several cities, such as what Halo Taxi is piloting in Las Vegas. Toward the end of the decade, the 5GAA says we should see dynamic cooperative traffic flow and dynamic intersection management.
True AV driving will require improved message delivery and communication between vehicles and for autonomous communications, requiring a whole host of new capabilities such as advanced mapping and augmented reality. While most of this will rely on Direct Mode, edge compute will clearly figure in, leveraging the investments being made by the operators and hyperscapers in 5G Edge and MEC.
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