Connectivity Is Forming the Basis for Car Innovation

Vehicle communication a boon for automotive industry

MWC 2019 was full of buzz around connectivity as 5G dominated keynote presentations and announcements. However, one development that was overlooked came in automotive and the role that connectivity is set to play in the coming years. On the face of it, Qualcomm’s launch of new 4G and 5G platforms for the automotive market is just that: “vanilla” announcements of modems for cars. But the reality is that the move begins to take connectivity beyond a niche point solution within premium vehicles.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Automotive 4G and 5G solutions offer features that are essential in this sector. They include integrated vehicle-to-everything communication (C-V2X), high-precision multifrequency global navigation satellite system, the company’s Vision Enhanced Precision Positioning (VEPP) technology, as well as support for dual-active SIM on the 5G platform. This is a logical step, but what’s more interesting is their role in a second generation of Qualcomm’s Connected Car Reference Design.

The reference design consists of three main parts: a modem; additional hardware including an application processor, RF front-end technology, hardware security module, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; and on top of these features come several crucial enabling applications. These run on the application processor and include a full V2X stack, V2X apps, a telematics software development kit, telematics apps, as well as an Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm for security and VEPP.

This is the decisive part of the reference design. It makes connectivity a platform on which automakers can begin to scale a range of connectivity options throughout their line-ups and introduce new business models and services. By packaging hardware and software elements onto a single board, Qualcomm is giving car manufacturers access to a complete offering rather than individual elements that need to be put together to form a solution. More importantly, it’s the basis for automakers and third-party developers to begin to create smart and connected applications.

This sows the seeds for an ecosystem built on a foundation of connectivity in a vehicle. It enables automakers and others to develop V2X apps that can communicate between cars, people and their environment. This will increase safety and efficiency on the roads, aid development of smarter cities and facilitate new business models.

Looking at the role of connectivity in cars today, this is a grand vision. Connectivity is available in a fraction of new cars and with limited functionality. Indeed, parts of the industry working on autonomous vehicles are resisting connectivity or confining it to functions distinct from mission-critical tasks. This is understandable given the potential security implications, but vehicles must develop a heightened sense of awareness — they must be able to see and sense. Cameras, radar and lidar create an all-important picture of the immediate surroundings, but this sensor fusion needs to be supported by an awareness that doesn’t rely on line of sight, and this is enabled by C-V2X.

C-V2X allows vehicles to communicate, anticipate and interpret situations based on what they can’t see, like an obstacle around a blind corner. For this, systems, maps as well as roadside and city infrastructure need to be able to communicate between one another. Connectivity also leads to far more precise vehicle positioning, which becomes essential to autonomous driving though technologies such as VEPP for lane-level accuracy.

Connectivity stands to become a major feature that enhances safety, improves location and enables new business models. However, security needs to be a central element for this to be feasible. Qualcomm’s 5G platform supports multiple carrier subscriptions using dual-active SIM, and functions and services are partitioned using hardware-based security and virtualization. Although manufacturers may opt for two modems for resilience, the same modem can be used for connections from several carriers to offer a blend of infotainment and mission-critical driving functions.

This is a leap for much of the automotive industry and it will take time. But the enabling technologies are now in place and there are signs of progress: Ford revealed at CES 2019 that it will deploy C-V2X in its entire vehicle fleet by 2022. This is the start for connectivity in cars. Within five years, it will seem alien for cars not to have a range of connectivity options as smartphones would. The implications for the automotive world are no less significant than the advent of 4G was for smartphones.

A version of this article was first published by FierceWireless on 14 March 2019.