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There has been much debate in Europe (and elsewhere) about which technology standard should be selected for connected and autonomous cars. The two major standards proposed were one based on Wi-Fi technology and another based on cellular LTE and 5G technology. On July 8, 2019 the European Union formally rejected the standard based on Wi-Fi that had been promoted by the European Commission. This formal rejection signals that the European Union will endorse a standard based on cellular connectivity or cellular vehicle to anything (CV2X). The decision should provide original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), communications service providers (CSPs), and tier suppliers with clarity, allowing them to accelerate investment in and development of connected and autonomous vehicles. The move will help to accelerate autonomous vehicle investment and development in Europe, which currently lags the US and China.


5G-V2X for connected vehicles will accelerate investment in autonomous driving in the EU

Since as far back as 2000, developing a standard for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-anything (V2X) communication has been an important step in establishing uniform communication between vehicles. Early consensus for the standard in Europe, Japan, and the US was to reserve spectrum within the 5.9GHz band for the cooperative intelligent transportation system (C-ITS) (as it is referred to in Europe) and dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) (as it is called in the US). The bandwidth set aside is immediately adjacent to the 5.725–5.85 GHz band used by Wi-Fi systems and is therefore referred to as a Wi-Fi variant, though it is far more secure in nature.

Despite early government support of C-ITS/DSRC in many countries, as cellular technology evolved, many in the industry saw cellular as a superior technology. Supporters of C-ITS/DSRC pointed to the protocol's maturity and reliability as reasons why it should be the standard; opponents pointed to DSRC's limited range (roughly 1,000m) and the efficiencies (greater bandwidth, better integration with smart cities) that will be gained as cars are rolled out on 5G. CSPs point out that 5G networks are likely to be used for in-vehicle infotainment, so there is little sense in installing additional hardware to support C-ITS/DSRC, because the two standards are not interoperable. Although GM has sold a limited number of Cadillacs with C-ITS/DSRC technology, few other vehicles on the road have it, so the move was not enough to get other OEMs installing it, meaning the safety benefits are negligible. Interestingly, this debate scarcely happened in China, as the specification for China's intelligent transportation systems specified that CV2X using LTE would be standard. This clear decision made it easy for Chinese OEMs and technology companies to form their own strategies around connected cars and autonomous driving. In fact, China's National Development and Reform Commission expects coverage across 90% of big cities and major highways by 2020.

After almost a decade of leaning on C-ITS/DSRC as the preferred technology, the EU has now rejected the European Commission's recommendation of C-ITS/DSRC in favor of CV2X. The move was lauded by supporters of 5G including Audi, BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Vodafone.

The US has not rejected DSRC; however, many OEMs are moving ahead with the belief that DSRC will not be mandated.

The decision to support CV2X will provide clarity to OEMs, CSPs, and suppliers as to what strategic technology they need to support for development of autonomous driving.

As has been seen with eCall, a lack of clarity regarding requirements stifled development and deployment because OEMs did not want to select a technology that would later be rejected.

China and the US have seen greater investment and interest in autonomous driving, in part because they are the two largest automotive markets and are less fragmented and less reliant on public transportation than Europe. In addition, Europe will likely lag China and the US in terms of 5G rollout, especially if policy around Huawei equipment remains unsettled.

Still, the announcement of CV2X should accelerate investment in autonomous driving in Europe. Although HERE (formerly Nokia's mapping business) was acquired by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, there has been little investment in Europe compared with the US, which is not only the home of Tesla but is also where General Motors spent $1bn to acquire Cruise and Ford acquired/funded for about $1bn.

European OEMs have recently committed to investing more heavily in autonomous driving and electrification. This announcement should drive more of that investment domestically, especially since the use cases and challenges for autonomous driving in Europe will be different from those in the US and in China. Older cities and infrastructure and a culture where public transportation is more readily available and embraced will significantly inform how autonomous transportation solutions are developed and deployed in Europe.

There are several initiatives from European OEMs:

  • VW plans to commit $34bn over the next five years to electrification and autonomous vehicles.

  • Nissan Renault launched its $1bn fund for "new mobility."

  • BMW iVentures has funded numerous startups including Nauto and Blackmore.

The announcement should also give rise to investments from CSPs and their suppliers now that real mobile 5G use cases are emerging and 5G networks are being rolled out. Because automotive will continue to be a huge source of Internet of Things (IoT) revenues, CSPs should plan network deployment with the needs of automotive OEMs in mind. CSPs should celebrate this announcement, because it helps to solidify their place in the connected-car value chain.

Further, the EU support for CV2X should have a positive knock-on effect for smart cities. Given the synergies between connected cars and smart city initiatives, the additional clarity about the underlying technology should help guide cities in what technologies to opt for in developing their own smart infrastructure.

Europe's decision to embrace CV2X is a big step toward creating a largely uniform standard for connected car and autonomous driving. With China already using CV2X and the US companies moving ahead with the assumption that CV2X will be adopted (Europe's decision could even encourage the US to go on the record announcing CV2X as the standard), it is likely that the rest of the world will adopt this technology as well.