5G connectivity is heating up but Guy Bird asks, is DSRC done for?
“The great wind down of DSRC (dedicated short-range communication) has begun, as the great wind up of 5G commences,” declares Roger Lanctot, director automotive connected mobility at Strategy Analytics. The reason is not so much to do with the technologies’ respective talents – DSRC is great for secure communication when and where cellular coverage is patchy or non-existent – but more about the hard-nosed cost of widening their potential reach and who can find ways to make money from those roll-outs.
Mahbubul Alam, CTO and CMO of the Movimento Group makes that clear. “If we use DSRC for V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything), we have to spend billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure),” he begins. “A new infrastructure has to be built along with a roadmap that shows the return on investment and the ownership of the project, which would probably be government. 5G has the advantage of cellular technology and carriers that are interested in rolling out different use cases. In this scenario, the carriers pick up the bill for the infrastructure and logically separate it out for mobile internet, smart grids, connected devices, autonomous vehicles and so on. They can monetise the technology in different ways and the infrastructure remains shared.”
Another helpful string to 5G’s bow is that it is an enhancement of existing technologies, so can operate in a complementary way. In that sense 5G creates a bridge, as Niclas Nygren, Volvo’s senior director for strategy and innovation, vehicle software and electronics explains: “4G capabilities, bandwidth and latency, work well with current connectivity services and autonomous cars at AD level 1-4 and will be sufficient for several years. 5G capabilities, bandwidth, latency, network capacity, will enable more advanced and demanding sensor sharing for autonomous Level 5 V2V. During roll-out of 5G, customers will initially experience patches of high bandwidth 5G but most of the time fall back to 4G capabilities. Thanks to the same base technology the handover will be seamless. You will not initially be able to run services that rely on a continuous 5G connection but, even in a limited 5G coverage scenario, increased bandwidth at your home for vehicle software and map updates will give increased customer value.”
Is 5G as secure as DSRC?
Breaches of cyber security are making the headlines in every sphere of life where the amount of digital information generated is expanding. Can 5G be safe and private enough for increasingly autonomous driving? “Communication security and privacy was carefully designed from the very beginning into DSRC-based V2X,” cautions Andre Weimerskirch, UMTRI’s associate research scientist, cybersecurity. “While I expect security that protects against forged V2X over-the-air messages can be directly ported to cellular-based V2X (C-V2X) the privacy implications have to be considered. For instance, it needs to be checked whether cellular V2X communication leaves any trace that allows tracking of vehicles, or mapping of transmissions to a real-world identifier such as a phone number or vehicle ID. To my best knowledge, no such evaluation has been performed yet, but I believe there are planned efforts in the pipeline.”
Weimerskirch doesn’t see the obstacles to these privacy and security issues as insurmountable though. “Securing wireless interfaces and protecting in-vehicle computing against hackers can be approached with typical best-practice mechanisms,” he adds. “I don't expect any significant differences between DSRC and cellular-based V2X.”
Where’s the testing at?
Urban test beds for V2V and V2X in New York and Tampa Bay in the US have been well-documented but the experts we talked to weren’t sure of the future of such schemes. “The results of these test beds have been a mixed bag,” Lanctot puts it bluntly. “They are a revelation for cities that have not previously taken a deep dive into transportation data and focused on life-saving applications and technologies. Unfortunately, it is a ‘too-little, too-late’ proposition and the funds available for wider deployment are non-existent.”
5G Cellular V2X may still have a long way to go in setting standards and testing but Volvo’s Nygren says all of that is on its way. “5G C-V2X basically aims at solving the same problem in the same frequency band in a slightly different way but details of the standard are yet to be defined, roaming issues need to be solved and massive testing is needed to validate the technology…Definitely, there will be a lot of test and trial activities from 2018 onwards.”
As Movimento’s Alam concludes: “The key message is that the window for DSRC to be implemented and become successful is only becoming smaller. No country has billions of dollars to roll out this dedicated infrastructure only for vehicle safety.”
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