Thursday July 4 was crucial day for the future of all segments of the auto and the telecom industries. The European Union Member States scrapped the EC’s proposed rules mandating Wi-Fi technology as the basis for how connected cars will talk to each other and to the transport infrastructure (Italian here), like stop lights and warnings.
The news didn’t reverberate around much, despite its far horizon effects and goals, i.e. the potential for cars talking to each other and to the transport infrastructure to reduce or eliminate altogether accidents.
Companies like Volkswagen, Renault, Toyota (in the beginning), GM and Volvo Group had been proponents of Wi-Fi systems, arguing that Wi-Fi was the only proven technology, and that related EU regulation and guidelines would provide clarity to automakers in their roadmap to connected cars.
The other camp, which has also support in the US and Asia, was backed by companies like Ford, BMW, Audi, Daimler and Qualcomm, and is working to use Cellular technology, either 4G LTE or 5G for car connectivity. These companies would like to avoid being forced to make investments in a soon-to-be outdated technology like Wi-Fi, which according to them offers poorer performance than the cellular-based technology coming with 5G networks.
Furthermore, no experts have categorically excluded that future connected cars could use both standards simultaneously, if the goal is establishing effective cross-vehicle and vehicle-infrastructure communication standards.
With the rationale that Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything technology (C-V2X) would not be viable in areas with limited or no cellular reception, and would bear a higher cost, the EC’s Wi-Fi standard would ignore cellular networks entirely—having only Europe rely fully on Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC).
Both arguments are being confuted by the proponents of cellular connectivity, which add that mandating Wi-Fi tech would “fail fundamentally to deliver on our shared goal to make Europe’s roads safer and smarter” and “directly undercut Europe’s stated 5G ambitions,” wrote Mats Granry, director of GSMA, the carriers’ organization.
Supporting this point of view, Toyota, the world’s largest automaker by volume, which initially backed Wi-Fi technology for the cars it planned to put on the road in the US starting in 2021, last May announced it canceled its plans to go ahead with Wi-Fi in the US. “Although there continues to be general excitement about DSRC and the benefits of widespread deployment (…) we have not seen significant production commitments from other automakers,” wrote Toyota in a letter to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). “Unfortunately, the cooperative safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication will not be fully realized without greater automotive industry commitment to deploy the technology.”
Toyota also cited regulatory uncertainty around the DSRC vs. C-V2X question as a reason for its decision.
The EC Wi-Fi proposal has drawn widespread criticism from mobile industry and technology groups—Audi, BMW and Deutsche Telekom—, which have argued that adopting older Wi-Fi standards would hamper 5G investments in Europe.
This was not the first time in which the European Commission seemed to consider only secondarily the development of new and more advanced technologies domestically and in other regions of the world.
Connected cars also face a huge challenge as to cybersecurity. They could benefit of the intense research going on in relation to 5G networks.
The European Parliament’s committee on transportation and tourism rejected the EC proposal for a mandatory single technology for car communications, recommending that the EU adopt a technology-neutral proposal that could accommodate 5G and other future technologies.