Momentum continues to build behind the 3GPP-based standard known as cellular V2X (C-V2X). This technology enables communication between vehicles and with their environment, and is a core building block for intelligent transport systems. Recent months have witnessed a surge of announcements, as several of the largest players from the telecom industry are lining up to back C-V2X and commitment from automotive manufacturers continues to build.
At Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, the 5G Automotive Association brought together Audi, Ericsson, Ford, Huawei, Nokia and Qualcomm to show their support for the standard and present a string of developments in applications, chipsets and integration into equipment (or, in Huawei's case, in prototype automotive units and roadside equipment). Notably, Huawei highlighted China's enthusiasm for C-V2X, a trend highlighted in more detail at the association's general assembly in Shanghai in November 2017. This is a huge boost for the technology given China's size and scale.
Also at the Barcelona event, Qualcomm's 9150 chipset for C-V2X was used in demonstrations by ZTE, which announced modules and test terminals compatible with the standard, and by Rohde & Schwarz, which showed off its C-V2X signaling test solutions. This capability is an absolute necessity for interoperability between different suppliers' products to enable an independent certification regime for devices. It's also vital in proving that C-V2X can meet the extremely tight latency requirements to allow for deployment in safety-related direct communications between vehicles.
In addition, Austrian manufacturer of traffic control equipment Swarco said that its US subsidiary McCain would be presenting roadside equipment based on Qualcomm's chipset. This is a tentative yet important step in establishing C-V2X within roadside and broader city infrastructure.
It's been a busy few months for C-V2X. At CES earlier in 2018, Ford announced that it would be working with Qualcomm to ensure that the standard is implemented in vehicles and roadside equipment. In tandem, Ford issued a joint statement with bicycle manufacturer Trek and software supplier Tome that it would move to integrate C-V2X into a bicycle-to-vehicle communication system powered by artificial intelligence, in an effort to improve safety.
CES also saw the formation of the Connected Vehicle to Everything of Tomorrow (ConVeX) consortium to carry out field tests of technology based on C-V2X. This has widespread involvement from Audi, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Swarco Traffic Systems and the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany. The initiative is being partly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure.
In parallel, more field trial consortia were announced, including one in Japan with the participation of Continental, Ericsson, Nissan, NTT DoCoMo, OKI and Qualcomm. Another group, the "Towards 5G" connected car partnership, involving Orange and the automotive manufacturing group PSA alongside Ericsson, was launched at the same time; Qualcomm joined at the time of Mobile World Congress.
But the proponents of rival dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) — notably NXP and Siemens, but also GM and Toyota — remain determined. DSRC isn't yet ready to join the elephants' graveyard of technologies whose moment came and went. There has been a slew of white papers, research reports and news articles claiming that the "mature" DSRC is technologically superior, cheaper to implement, ready now, and on the point of being mandated by the US government. There's a list of DSRC pilots doing the rounds too, hoping to show that, unlike C-V2X, the technology is already here.
Most of these are highly contestable, not least the claim that DSRC is about to become a regulatory requirement in the US, where there has been a series of unconfirmed reports, clarifications and re-clarifications about whether the Trump administration is about to kill off a safety-related process set in train by its predecessor.
C-V2X isn't the first time that the telecom industry has tried to create a peer-to-peer mesh-based networking protocol. Observers will remember LTE Direct, defined in 3GPP Release 12, for which Qualcomm was briefly an enthusiastic advocate. But that was in 2014; since then there have been few trials and no implementations of the technology. It seemed that telecom operators were uninterested in features that bypassed their networks.
However, we believe C-V2X is likely to be different. There are two core constituencies — future smart cities and car-makers — that absolutely need the direct element to meet their main requirements, especially for safety-related uses. Moreover, there's a business opportunity for the operators. Direct connectivity is also essential to maintain the momentum and the functional superiority over DSRC, which now seems to be falling behind.
Jeremy Green is a CCS Insight Associate. He has worked in the telecommunications industry for over 30 years.