5G Automotive: What We Can Expect and The Challenges with Implementation

February 13, 2020 by Sam Holland

5G may still have a long way to go, but its potential for connected car applications are already unmistakable.

We look at how best to define ‘5G automotive’, the chief authorities behind its research and development, and both the current and future landscape of 5G-based connected cars.


Defining 5G Automotive

To tackle the matter of fifth-generation wireless in connected cars, it’s worth first confirming that ‘5G automotive’ (which will soon be defined) is only in its R&D stage at the time of writing. 5G automotive is a future prospect, perhaps even a promise—but it’s not yet a reality. Fifth-generation wireless itself, in fact, is currently in its infancy.

Accordingly, the realization of 5G automotive would involve a time at which engineers and manufacturers have successfully utilized 5G as a platform to enhance the following two areas to the point of achieving real-time transport communication, for a more efficient, safe, and eco-friendly driving experience:

1. Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications—This is a short-range wireless vehicular system through which vehicles communicate with, not only other traffic, but the very environment around them.

V2X is collectively formed of vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian, vehicle-to-network, and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (respectively, V2V, V2P, V2N, and V2C, as per the below picture).

2. Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS)—This is when two or more ITS subsystems, e.g. vehicle and roadside subsystems, collectively offer better safety and efficiency in the transport network.

C-ITS goes hand in hand with V2X to ensure that the given vehicle maintains a safe distance from both road and roadside obstacles. (C-ITS can even reduce emissions—thanks to the economical transport that comes with such cautious, well-planned driving.)


Infographic of vehicle-to-vehicle under the umbrella of V2X.

An infographic using graphics and acronyms to represent the dynamics of vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian, vehicle-to-network, and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications—all under the umbrella of V2X, or vehicle-to-everything. 


As both technologies hinge upon one another, the former, V2X, will need to be enhanced to realize the large-scale commercialization of the latter, C-ITS (and vice versa). Experts, such as the GSMA (Global System for Mobile Association), ascertain that this will require the utilization of 5G.

With the previous points now discussed, note that ‘5G automotive’ is used in this discussion to mean: ‘a future point at which 5G will become the basis for V2X operations, which will in turn facilitate fifth-generation-based C-ITS in connected cars’.

Such a definition of ‘5G automotive’ is chiefly based on the vision of the 5GAA (5G Automotive Association), a leading authority on 5G automotive R&D: “5G”, says the organization, “will be the ultimate platform to enable C-ITS and the provision of V2X”.

Before we re-visit C-ITS, V2X, and further smart vehicle research organizations, let’s now discuss the current landscape of fifth-generation R&D in the context of connected cars.


What is Already Being Done?

While, as touched on, 5G automotive may exist only in the fairly distant future, many modern vehicles already have built-in satnav, voice-controlled AI assistants, and driver assistance functionalities. So, as we speak, it appears that the seed has in fact already been planted for 5G automotive, given how much demand for such connected car capabilities already exists.

Nevertheless, a particular challenge, as is the case with general 5G itself, is in further developing and optimizing the latest cellular network. And for as long as that hurdle is yet to be overcome, the resulting limitations on connected car features mean that they currently run on the current cellular standard, 4G Long-Term Evolution (or failing that, 2G or 3G for the less developed connected vehicles).

To reach the next generation of connected cars, automotive engineers, manufacturers, and regulatory bodies must cooperate to ensure the best possible 5G standardization, through which all fifth-generation-ready connected cars can communicate. As explained in logistics and transport giant Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s interview and research article, ‘How will 5G affect the automotive industry and mobility?’:

“it would be ... expensive and counter-productive for all the automotive brands to develop their own next-generation wireless communications system.

By supporting the development of 5G, and in turn defining the specifications that smart cars need, they [engineers and manufacturers] are speeding up the progress of 5G leaving the test labs and making its way into the real world.”

This, again, reflects the fact that 5G automotive is still in its R&D stage: ensuring the successful roll-out of 5G itself, along with the cooperation of a great many manufacturers, is key. This leads us back to the 5G Automotive Association—alongside other connected car authorities—and the question of how close such organisations are to realising 5G automotive.


An intelligent transport system facilitated by vehicle-to-everything connectivity.

An example of an intelligent transport system function that is facilitated by vehicle-to-everything connectivity: automatic overtake, which is triggered by the detection of a slow-moving vehicle. Image Credit: Jaguar MENA via Flickr.


How Close Are We to Seeing 5G Automotive?

Again, the 5GAA is the leading authority on realizing 5G automotive: it’s formed of automotive, tech, and/or telecom companies (including BMW, Huawei, and Apple)—all working to “define and develop the next generation of connected mobility” while “support[ing] the idea that 5G will be the ultimate platform to enable C-ITS and the provision of V2X”.

The 5GAA’s belief in the importance of enhancing cooperative intelligent transport systems and vehicle-to-everything brings us to two major efforts that are, respectively, focused on C-ITS and V2X: the Car 2 Car Communication Consortium and the Connected Vehicle data Exchange (ConVEx) project.


A time lapsed photo of a city road at night.

Human error may one day no longer be enough to endanger road users. Pictured: a steady flow of traffic (represented by a constant stream of vehicle headlights and brake lights) passes through various city roads. 


Taking Stock of the Current Progress into 5G Automotive

It’s in view of such authorities as the 5GAA, the collective ConVEx members, and the C2C-CC, that it’s clear that the R&D into connected car technologies is set to thrive indefinitely. However, having technologies work on paper and having them work in practice are very different things. After all, we’ve talked about the obstacles that come with installing 5G infrastructure before. 

The truth is that there’s no saying when 5G authoritative will happen, and therefore, it stands to reason that the next generation of connected cars won’t be rolled out for some time. So, with no planned date (although Ford is aiming for 2022), it’s hard to promise that it will materialize in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, the points covered—namely manufacturers’ collaboration in 5G R&D, the public’s rising interests in (and therefore demand for) connected vehicles, alongside the steady improvements in transport connectivity and cellular networking—all point to the realization of 5G automotive being a question of ‘when’: no ‘if’ about it.

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