Image courtesy of BMW

(Image courtesy of BMW).

Makers of Chips, Cars, and Radio Equipment Join Forces to Connect Cars with 5G

Germany’s largest automakers are preparing to upgrade their cars with a new generation of wireless technology, and they have enlisted partners in radio infrastructure and semiconductors to help.

Audi, BMW, and Daimler said last week that they were partnering with two major chipmakers and telecommunications equipment makers Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia to develop and test the fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G. They will also aim to built consensus around issues like protecting cars from hackers and the privacy of drivers.

The organization, which also includes American chip giants Qualcomm and Intel, has been created at a time of significant upheaval in the automotive industry. Car manufacturers are working on vehicles that not only collect data from sensors and cameras but also using wireless technology to broadcast and receive location data from other cars – data that could help alert drivers about other vehicles on the road or even automatically avoid collisions.

The organization will focus on the tricky task of connecting cars to infrastructure, and other cars. Many wireless companies are experimenting with this technology – also known as Vehicle-to-X or V2X communications – and not without reason. In the United States, the Department of Transportation is considering rules that would require cars to broadcast their location to others on the road.

But enabling cars to share data with other vehicles requires cellular networks that are faster and more reliable than what smartphone users are familiar with. That is where 5G networks enter the picture. These networks, industry executives say, will connect to cars almost instantaneously and be reliable enough to meet the strict standards of highway regulators.

The 3G Partnership Project, an industry group that maintains cellular standards, has already completed a V2X standard, which will be released as part of a larger standard in 2017. 5G, industry analysts say, will likely appear in 2020.

But there are other technologies for connecting cars in the works. While 5G will have to share the airwaves with smartphones and other devices, a technology known as dedicated short range communications, or DSRC, has been developed specifically for cars. Several Silicon Valley startups like Autotalks and Savari specialize in making hardware and software based on the standard.

By sharing location data with other cars on the road, for instance, Savari’s software can warn drivers of a possible collision or when other vehicles creep into blind spots. Paul Sakamoto, chief operating officer at Savari, said in an interview earlier this year that hardware in smartphones can be programmed to share the short-range data, so that drivers can avoid pedestrians with a phone in their pockets.

Rapidly and reliably sharing data is at the heart of automakers’ big data projects. Last week, the three German automakers said that they would use a new service from digital mapmaker Here. It will warn drivers about accidents and locate parking spaces by pooling data from cameras and sensors inside hundreds of thousands of cars. That data will be sent wirelessly into the cloud and redistributed in real-time.

The new partnership will also examine privacy and security regulations, in response to rising concerns about how data from vehicles will be used. In August, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to create privacy rules for connected cars. The letter expressed fears that data could be misused for targeted advertising – like what Google and Facebook are doing on the internet – which could appear on dashboard displays and billboards.

To help address these concerns, industry executive say that companies need input from multiple industries. It is necessary to “work closely together with the car industry to jointly develop solutions as well as provide input to regulation, certification, and standardization,” said Ulf Ewaldsson, Ericsson’s chief technology officer, in announcing the new organization.

Audi’s Christoph Voigt will serve as the chairman of the 5GAA’s board. The 3GPP’s Dino Fiore will be the director general of the organization, according to a statement released last week.

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