Smart infrastructure and smartphones are slugging it out for market supremacy, reports Andrew Williams.

As discussions relating to spectrums and vehicle-based wireless connectivity heat up, organisations around the world continue to investigate the relative merits of potential supporting infrastructure technology.  So, what are the key advantages and disadvantages of the 5G and DSRC infrastructures vying to support V2X technologies and what is in store for the foundation of connectivity in 2017? 

Infrastructure Options

In basic terms, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication involves the passing of information from a vehicle to any entity that may affect the vehicle, and vice versa.

One of the main purposes of the drive towards the establishment of comprehensive 5G and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) networks is the standardisation and support of various aspects of V2X, although at this stage the extent to which either standard will be adopted by the industry is still far from certain.  As Roger Lanctot, associate director of global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, explains, the key difference at this stage is that 5G has existing infrastructure in place to support V2X applications, while DRSC technology “has no infrastructure in place”. 

“5G also enables a fully integrated connection with safety applications and value-added services.  DSRC prioritises safety but is intended to offer value-added services as well, though again, not until infrastructure is put in place.  User interfaces (UI) must also be designed and deployed for DSRC,” says Lanctot.

“UI for telecom connections such as 5G are already in place and understood.  DSRC will struggle to fulfil its safety mission and, in fact, has many limitations that can never be corrected – it is an inflexible architecture.  5G is by definition an evolution of LTE and sets the stage for further evolution and expansion and development, including accommodation of increasing volumes of signals and data,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Martin Rosell, managing director at WirelessCar, agrees that there are “several interesting opportunities” in the ongoing development of V2X and 5G and believes that V2X will be “necessary to support a world of autonomous cars and will bring significant value in the near term”.  He also points out that Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are already launching V2V services where vehicles share information about road conditions, via the Cloud, to provide a “better and more secure experience”.

“This is a trend we believe will continue and we expect to see more services like these launch in 2017,” he adds.

Test Beds

Despite ongoing reservations about the long-term viability of DSRC, a number of test bed initiatives, including the THEA urban pilot in Tampa currently being carried out as part of the US Department of Transport's Connected Vehicles Pilot Deployment Program alongside sister initiatives in New York and Wisconsin, continue to employ the technology in an effort to drive the development of next-generation systems.  A key objective of the THEA initiative is to facilitate transmissions between around 1,500 cars, as well as 10 buses, 10 trolleys and 500 pedestrians using smartphone applications and around 40 roadside units along city streets.  After successfully completing the concept development and planning phase in August 2016, the THEA project team has now moved onto Phase 2, which will include the “design and deployment of CV technology in downtown Tampa” and involve the recruitment of a number of volunteer drivers.  Next year, the project will also enter an 18-month operational phase scheduled for completion towards the end of 2019.

However, according to Lanctot, the majority of the testing work being carried out in these urban is focused on collision-avoidance – an application he believes “will not be relevant or deliverable for ten or more years”, since it will be “dependent on near-universal deployment in cars, appropriate infrastructure and user interfaces, as well as on integration with on-board safety systems like braking control”.

“This last required step, as opposed to simply offering 'alerts', is a major step that will take many years for automakers to implement owing to the risk of false positives.”

Meanwhile, Lanctot predicts that enterprise applications based on V2V communications, including traffic alerts, connections to traffic and street lights and variable message signs, will have “immediate relevance and help to establish the principles behind inter-vehicle and inter-brand data communication and sharing”. 

“The fact that not a single competing car company followed GM's lead in announcing the early deployment of DSRC, speaks volumes as to the limited and low level of enthusiasm for DSRC.  Car companies are increasingly recognising that the path forward lies via cellular, which is also adding NarrowBand Internet of Things (NB-IoT) technology for long-range and deep-penetrating wireless connections,” he says.

“The truth is that DSRC simply took too long to get to market and is, in fact, still in the process of testing, validation and finalisation and was overtaken by cellular technology," he concludes.

[Mob.Williams.2016.11.07]

TU-Automotive Detroit 2017

07 Jun 2017 - 08 Jun 2017, NOVI, USA

The Undisputed Home of the Connected, Autonomous Car. With 150 speakers, 200 booths and 3000 attendees it's the world's biggest conference & exhibition dedicated to automotive tech. innovation.