Wi-Fi edges European fight over driving tech, despite noisy 5G rearguard
Europe moved a step closer to rejecting 5G for autonomous vehicles in favour of wi-fi based communications last week, after the European Parliament voted in favour of the latter technology as proven, and “easy to implement and cheap”.
Around 60 per cent of the vote (304 against 207) in the European Parliament went to the older Wi-Fi technology last Wednesday (April 17), backed by certain elements within the automotive and technology markets, notably Volkswagen, Renault, and Toyota, and Dutch silicon manufacturer NXP Semiconductors.
These companies argue that a new wi-fi based standard, called ITS-G5, is available already as a means to underpin a so-called ‘Cooperative-Intelligent Transport Systems’ (C-ITS), unlike 5G-based cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology, which is some years away.
Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, said in an interview with EurActiv, a publication focusing on European policymaking: “Wi-fi is a proven technology and has almost no patents on it anymore. It’s available now, is easy to implement and it’s cheap. It’s affordable for everyone. [Statistics show that] 25,000 people lose their lives every year and 137,000 are seriously injured.
“People want us to wait three or four years in case the new technology becomes available. We have technology that can be deployed now and can save lives. I don’t want to be part of those statistics. I don’t want my kids, my friends, anyone a part of those statistics because we had the technology and didn’t act.”
A widening cross-industry group, combining prominent members of the automotive, telecoms, and technology sectors stands in the opposite corner, comprising Audi, BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Vodafone.
These other companies claim 5G will prove to be the strongest solution for vehicular communications, in support of the C-ITS template, and the European Commission’s stated ‘Vision Zero’ framework, which sets out a strategy for zero road deaths by 2050.
The matter will now go before the European Council, where opponents require the support of 55 per cent of European Union (EU) member states (16 out of 28 countries), representing a minimum of 65 per cent of the bloc’s population, to put 5G-based C-V2X back on the table.
But German car maker BMW and German operator Deutsche Telekom last week asked the German government to block the commission’s proposal to set a wi-fi-based standard for connected cars, according to Reuters.
“We are convinced that mandating wi-fi technology will cause significant delay to the European rollout of car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication,” the duo said in a letter to Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, quoted by Reuters.
Meanwhile, an open letter from the ITS-G5 camp, signed by NXP Ssystems, Renault, Scania, Toyota, and Volkswagen, among others, stated the so-called delegated act on C-ITS, backing Wi-Fi based ITS-G5, will complement incoming 5G systems.
“The claim that the current Commission proposal is not technology neutral is simply false. The delegated act containing ITS-G5 is not blocking 5G deployment, but complements the 5G strategy of Europe,” the group wrote.
“At this point in time, 5G is still being tested. Once this testing process is complete, 5G can be implemented in the delegated act via the review clause, since road safety, requires tested and proved technology, requirements ITS-G5 fulfils. By adoption of the delegated act and favouring a true hybrid approach, Europe will prevent potential future monopolies and the free market will be strengthened, putting Europe in the driver seat of C-ITS.
“The delegated act on C-ITS complements 5G as well as ITS-G5 deployment, as both technologies are a necessity for increasing safety and efficiency of Europe’s roads. It is time to adopt this legislation now.”
On the other side, Mats Granryd, director-general at the GSMA, representing the telecoms operator community, highlighted the conflict at the heart of the decision. He noted in a letter to the European Parliament growing cross-industry support for 5G, as a “more recent and efficient” technology, including from EU members states and EC leaders, as well,.
Granryd wrote: “To be clear, 802.11p has demonstrably poorer performance than C-V2X in terms of security, reliability, range and latency. Moreover, 802.11p functions as a standalone network, while other solutions would better allow for the seamless interchange of data. The safety of drivers can be greatly enhanced when cars can ‘talk’ to people.”
The current EC proposal “tries to overcome its obvious shortcomings” by including a review clause that allows for other technologies to be part of the C-ITS ecosystem, he said.
“This is simply not possible. To be added to C-ITS, there are demands of ‘interoperability’ and ‘backwards compatibility’ between 802.11p and future communication infrastructure. C-V2X cannot ‘talk’ to 802.11p, as they are different technologies that use radio waves incompatibly. It is like putting a DVD into a VHS player and trying to make it work.
Technology and vehicle markets are global, he said. Roadside C-V2X units are already available; a number of car makers plan to equip their models with C-V2X, including BMW, PSA and Ford. In the US, the mandate for DSRC (similar to 802.11p) has never been adopted, spurring the ikes of Ford to commit to C-V2X in real terms, he said.
“The technology choice that Europe is making towards 802.11p goes in a backwards direction, ignoring market developments and isolating itself further.”
He added: “The Delegated Act directly undercuts Europe’s stated 5G ambitions. The EU’s 5G Action Plan calls for all “major terrestrial transport paths [to] have uninterrupted 5G coverage by 2025.” Rather than incentivising this outcome, the new legislation deals a blow to 5G rollout plans across Europe. As C-V2X is a key building block for future 5G networks, and as connected cars are one of the most important 5G use cases, this decision to prioritise 802.11p will hinder 5G deployment in Europe.
“There is so much well-founded objection to the Delegated Act on C-ITS, that it is simply the wrong choice for Europe to make. We fully understand that the Commission wants to use technology to reduce the unacceptable amount of road fatalities. Our industry shares that goal. But this Delegated Act fails to achieve that. If adopted, Europe will find itself on a dead-end road, locked into an antiquated technology choice to connect cars and infrastructure.”