(Image courtesy of Volvo).

Cars Could Chat Over Cellular Networks by 2020

Cars that share their location, speed, and other information over cellular networks will be commercialized by 2020, according to a report released Thursday by the 5G Automotive Association.

The 70-member group said that car manufacturers would start to test hardware for cellular vehicle-to-everything or C-V2X next year. They would install it in vehicles the year after that to help cars automatically avoid crashes in low visibility situations, send collision warnings to drivers, and contribute to traffic and weather reports.

C-V2X technology connects to the same networks used by modern cars to stream music to the dashboard display and send diagnostics to the cloud. But it also supports direct V2X communications without using cellular infrastructure in the 5.9 GHz band and without the need for network assistance, subscriber identity module or cellular subscription.

That puts it into competition with dedicated short range communications, or D.S.R.C., with which cars can send standardized messages to each other directly ten times per second. Companies that make chips that can support the technology include NXP Semiconductors and Autotalks, a startup that last year raised $40 million to prepare its second-generation of chips.

C-2VX technology can be embedded in vehicles by packaging hardware into modules alongside cellular chips from Qualcomm, Intel and Huawei. (All three of these companies were founding members of the 5GAA). The goal is to include the  technology in the international 5G standard.

The association released its report after many companies grumbled over a proposal in the United States to mandate D.S.R.C. in all new vehicles. The mandate could be in danger though as the Trump administration drags its feet to nominate a commissioner for National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, which could approve it.

Qualcomm and other companies that stand to benefit if the mandate is scrapped say that C-V2X can provide the same vehicle to vehicle communications as D.S.R.C. The systems could also allow cars to send messages more securely and over longer distances than the 1000-foot range of D.S.R.C., flagging accidents further up the road in a blizzard or warning a driver about a car speeding around a blind corner.

C-V2X technology has the potential to scale faster. It could be included in cellular chips already used to enable telematics and wireless software updates in cars. The 10 global automakers in the 5GAA operate more than 20 million cellular connected cars. The 5GAA estimates that about 120 million such cars will be on the road globally by 2020.

The automotive association expects the first commercial chips that support C-V2X to roll out in China and Europe, followed by the U.S. and other parts of Asia.

D.S.R.C., which has been tested in tens of thousands of vehicles to date, has an early lead. General Motors has built Cadillacs that support D.S.R.C. and Volkswagen plans to use the short-range communications technology in cars by 2019. Autotalks is supplying chips to Denso and is in talks with other Tier 1 auto suppliers.

Autotalks argues that D.S.R.C. is cheaper. A recent report from ABI Research, commissioned by Autotalks, said that adding C-V2X to a 4G module would cost between $13.50 and $15 more than adding D.S.R.C., which has been in development almost two decades. The additional costs stem from the hardware required to precisely synchronize cars with cellular base station as well as patent licensing fees for 4G technology.

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