Vodafone claims European ‘firsts’ in live tests of cellular for cars and drones
Vodafone has completed the first live tests in Europe of a full cellular system for both short and long-range vehicular communications, as well as for monitoring and managing multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the same air space.
The UK operator teamed with Jaguar Land Rover and Huawei on the cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) trial in London, in the UK. It cleared regulation, meanwhile, to test its proposed ‘radio positioning system’ (RPS), which uses a 4G modem and SIM attached to a drone, at a Vodafone test facility in Aldenhoven, in Germany.
The London C-V2X demonstration showed C-V2X could undertake direct short-range and long-range communications over a live mobile network at the same time. It was a European first, the operator said.
Jaguar F-PACE and Land Rover Discovery vehicles were fitted with C-V2X units containing a Huawei chipset, compliant with the 3GPP’s Release 14 standard, and able to support both PC5 (short-range) and Uu (long-range) communications.
The cars connected to each other using Vodafone UK’s mobile network for long range communications and PC5 for short-range communications. They were also able to connect to Huawei’s PC5 capable roadside unit (RSU) for speed limit alerts.
The trio showcased four ways cellular-connected cars can reduce road accidents: by communicating at t-junctions, when changing lanes and accelerating out of blind spots, when braking and breaking-down, and when speed limits change.
Luke Ibbetson, head of research and development at Vodafone Group, said: “The technology has reached a mature stage and is ready for deployment. That is very good news for all road users.”
Colin Lee, V2X group manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Increasing the line of sight of a vehicle by enabling it to talk to other vehicles, pedestrians and the surrounding environment means we can drastically help to improve road safety for all road users. The sooner we can bring connected vehicles to our customers, the sooner we can make safer, congestion free roads a reality.”
William Lu, general manager of Huawei’s C-V2X product line, said: “This demonstration shows that combined use of PC5 & Uu interfaces can provide more effective ways to enhance road safety and efficiency.”
Meanwhile, the drone tests in Germany, in front of representatives from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Commission, sought to underline the suitability of cellular as a backup, at least, to GPS for managing high volumes UAVs.
The test showed it is possible to “identify two drones in close proximity and manage them separately”, said Vodafone. It was another European first, it said.
“In future this could be done at mass scale with SIM cards in drones serving a similar function to aircraft transponders.”
Regulators will need technology support to ensure drones are constantly monitored when flying ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) and to enforce no fly zones around sensitive buildings.
Vodafone said the trial showed 4G networks, optimised for ground-based users, could also be used to monitor UAVs at up to 120 metres above ground level.
RPS is more secure than GPS, said Vodafone. Conventional radar does not work with small devices like drones, it noted.
Its system uses artificial intelligence to calculate the position of a UAV, and indicate if it veers off course. Again, the message from Vodafone was about safety, in this case of aircraft, civilians, facilities and drones themselves.
The 4G mobile network also supported a live 1080p video stream and image transfer, at an average download speed of nine megabits per second.
Johan Wibergh, chief technology officer at Vodafone Group, said: “This important trial has shown the capability for mobile networks to help to implement a regulatory framework and enable the creation of a substantial drone services economy in Europe.”
Yves Morier, principal advisor to the flight standards director at EASA, said: “Operator trials such as this one are helpful in developing the regulatory framework that will enable beyond line of sight drone flights in Europe and the creation of a valuable new area of economic activity.”
Vodafone is looking to test additional features, including ‘geofencing’, the ability to block drones from entering no-fly zones, and ways to implement different authority levels when accessing location information and flight plans and the tracking of drones with 5G.