AT&T strikes deal with Toyota, walks the line on crunch C-V2X / DSRC debate
AT&T has slipped out a minor announcement about LTE connectivity on latest-model Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks in the US, starting from the fall, just as the technology and automotive markets appeared in a newly climactic embrace ahead of the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Last Vegas this week.
The new AT&T-Toyota deal will see AT&T plug into the Toyota’s ‘global communications platform’, developed with KDDI, to enhance in-car streaming and browsing, as well as vehicle diagnostics, navigation, and connected safety and support functions.
But near-term car connectivity is a sideshow this week, as autonomous driving comes into clearer view at CES. Amid the bluster, the declaration from Ford that cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is the only way to go for driverless cars was notable.
Ford will deploy C-V2X in all of its new vehicle models in the US, starting in 2022, it said. The US car giant joins the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the C-V2X camp; buoyed by Qualcomm’s 9150 C-V2X chipset, certain of them are showing their hands this week in Las Vegas.
Competitor brands, meanwhile, including AT&T’s latest LTE-partner Toyota and Ford’s country rival General Motors, are backing Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology instead, in what the New York Times has described as the automotive sector’s VHS/Betamax moment.
For its part, AT&T maintains a tightrope walk between the two camps. “We’re actively engaged with the automotive ecosystem on both sides – because there are different folks in different camps,” said Chris Penrose, president of IoT solutions at AT&T, speaking with Enterprise IoT Insights at the end of last year (in a conversation that is otherwise covered here, here and here).
“We’re working on proofs and testing, with different companies.”
AT&T’s working relationship with Ford is close, too. Penrose referenced its work to test C-V2X technology on a proving ground in San Diego with the US car giant at the end of 2017. The pair were flanked by Qualcomm and Nokia in the tests.
The objective, then, was to demo the safety credentials of C-V2X in automated driving. Has its C-V2X work with Ford, as well as others, showed C-V2X is the superior technology? Again, Penrose maintains the same line about technological agnosticism.
“We are really taking a middle-ground approach. Both technologies offer safety and traffic benefits. We’re not choosing a winner. We want to understand how they work, and how we can support them. We’re seeing what can be done, as they are tested; then, we’ll see if they will co-exist,” he said.
Pushed on the results of the trials so far, Penrose maintained the jury is still out – even as Ford planned its pre-CES blog schedule and C-V2X declaration. But Penrose clarified, as well, the role of the network operator as triallist in the case, and the role of the car maker as the referee, ultimately.
“It’s still too early to declare [a winner] on that. There’s still work by the automotive OEMs to look at them both, and make that that ultimate decision. We will just show what both technologies can do,” said Penrose.
At CES this week, Ford is being joined by car company Audi and bike company Ducati to showcase driving situations using direct C-V2X communications, all running from vehicles using the Qualcomm 9150 C-V2X chipset.
The companies also showed safety scenarios of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications at four-way “non-signalised” traffic intersections, to promote the “maturity and potential” of C-V2X technology.
For AT&T, like the rest of the operator community, cellular technology is essential to the wider system, beyond just V2V communications, remarked Penrose.
“Our networks can add a lot of incremental value on top because you’re not going to be able to take full advantage of this automotive ecosystem by just talking vehicle-to-vehicle. You’ve got to go beyond that immediate line-of-sight,” he said.
“We want to integrate with both technologies, and show how the full range of technologies can offer an amazing autonomous experience.”
The car industry faces massive disruption. “It is a complete revolution, and there’s a whole bunch of players that will influence the future of the automobile,” said Penrose. In the future traffic and transport set-up, these players will convene within an ‘intelligent transport system’ (ITS).
AT&T sees itself as an enabler, and a “master integrator” – the glue in machine. “The fact we integrate with so many vehicles already means we can play a role to help those vehicles, from different manufacturers, to communicate,” said Penrose.
He alluded, as well, to the crossover with its work already with civic authorities and traffic agencies in the smart cities space. “We are working in cities to tie off and improve traffic flow, and V2I communications, because of the role we play.”
AT&T is keen to promote its role at the American Centre of Mobility, which it founded with Toyota, and others; it is referenced in the press note about the Toyota deal, and is dropped into conversation with Enterprise IoT Insights. It makes clear its self-proclaimed influence in the future of connected and autonomous vehicles, and the revolution facing the industry.
“Cars are the ultimate mobile device. Working with Toyota and KDDI we will bring the benefits of connectivity to millions of consumers,” said Penrose in the release.
“We’re very much trying to work within the automotive ecosystem to be part of what the future looks like, as we move down the road of autonomy,” he commented in interview.
For the operator community, at large, the choice about whether the automotive industry chooses C-V2X or DSRC is a lesser concern, so long as cellular is at its heart. It is not yet guaranteed.
In November, Vodafone, Ericsson and BMW issued a stark warning to law makers in Europe that their current stance on vehicular communications, which precludes 5G technologies in favour of a single purpose Wi-Fi variant, will throw the region way off track in terms of digital infrastructure and economic development.
As it stands, the European Commission is proposing a single-purpose Wi-Fi technology, known as ITS-G5, as the communication standard for European ITS in the future.
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