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EU Must Embrace V2V Neutrality

by Roger Lanctot | Apr 17, 2019

The European Union is on the cusp of making its greatest connected car blunder since the adoption of the eCall mandate which went into effect one year ago this month.  The European Parliament meets this week and will have the opportunity to consider the Transport and Tourism Committee’s objection to the Delegated Act which was adopted last month requiring the use of Wi-Fi-based dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) technology for accessing intelligent transportation system (ITS) services.

At issue in this EU debate is the creation of a regulatory framework for the adoption of inter-vehicle communication technology – so-called V2V.  In the U.S., the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stopped short of mandating a similar DSRC solution opting, instead, for a technology neutral stance and no mandate.  In China, the largest and fastest growing automobile market, the automotive and wireless industries appear to have agreed on the adoption of cellular-based V2V in the form of so-called C-V2X technology.

The EU, meanwhile, is poised this week to put its legislative thumb firmly on the scale in favor of DSRC technology for V2V communications in spite of widespread and growing opposition. The adoption of the Delegated Act, if not rejected by the European Parliament, will create a de facto mandate for a so-called ITS-G5 connection in cars in addition to existing wireless connections. 

Such a decision will require car makers to add two connectivity devices where a single telecom device has been shown to be sufficient. Opposition to the Delegated Act is widespread marking a significant departure from the political environment that fostered eCall adoption.

The eCall mandate faced objections from many quarters in the industry, but car makers and wireless carriers were ambivalent and mostly silent. Car makers were disinclined to publicly oppose eCall as it might make them appear to be cavalier and unconcerned with driver safety.  Wireless carriers had to wrestle with the ambivalence of wanting more connected devices on their networks – but not devices that were pinging towers without creating revenue.

The arrival of the eCall mandate last April – applicable to new type-approved vehicles – led to car makers stalling the introduction of vehicles requiring type approvals thereby delaying the deployment of eCall. ECall had been sold to the automotive and wireless industries as a life-saving technology (with annual lives saved estimated as high as 1,200 Europe-wide) and a potential connected car bonanza. Rather than hitting the wireless jackpot, car companies hit the brakes on connectivity in Europe.

A similar scenario is seen unfolding should the European Parliament allow the Delegated Act to proceed unopposed. Car makers have privately indicated their intentions to delete V2V plans if ITS-G5 technology is required by the EU.

The drumbeat of opposition to the Delegated Act and a de facto ITS-G5 mandate is loud and growing. The European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee voted to object to the draft technical legislation setting out communication standards for connected cars – the aforementioned Delegated Act. The European Parliament can either act on the recommendation of the Transport and Tourism Committee or simply ignore it. Ignoring the recommendation is a very real possibility with EU elections underway.

But the Transport and Tourism Committee is not alone. The GSMA (GSM Association) Director General Mats Granryd sent an open letter the European Parliament concerning the Delegated Act on C-ITS writing: “I would like to urge you also to vote in favor of the (Transport and Tourism Committee) objection so that this piece of legislation goes back to the Commission. Approving the Delegated Act in its current form would be a grave disservice to European citizens and their safety on the roads.”

Deutsche Telekom and BMW, separately, called on the German government to support cellular-based C-V2X mobile technology as the standard for communication between networked vehicles in the Council of the European Union.  Deutsche Telekom’s CEO Tim Hottges and BMW CEO Harald Kruger sent a letter to the German Transport Minister, Andreas Scheuer, saying Germany should oppose the Delegated Act and present a new one.

The two CEOs said that the adoption of ITS-G5 by the EU, if not stopped, will slow 5G adoption.  Both Deutsche Telekom and BMW ask that the German representatives reject the Delegated Act.

Support for the Delegated Act has come from the EU’s own Transport Commission – so-called DG-Move – and from two car makers: Renault and Volkswagen. Some fleet operators and ITS organizations have filed supportive statements as well – but a preponderance of car makers and wireless carriers have expressed opposition.

The challenge for the European Parliament is for this organization to overcome its institutional inclination to support the ITS technology favored by the contractors and suppliers constructing Europe’s transportation infrastructure.  It seems like a perfectly logical path and it is one that is also supported by commercial vehicle operators like Scania and MAN, which are already using similar technologies for tolling applications.

It is difficult for these organizations to recognize the changes arriving with new network technology in the form of LTE-based C-V2X and 5G. Both of these technologies will enable vehicles to communicate with one another en masse and with infrastructure and mobile devices – i.e. pedestrians.

Using the cellular device already embedded in most cars to enable V2X communications has the advantage of offering superior technical performance vis a vis DSRC from the standpoint of speed/latency, range and capacity as well as cost. The main advantage of ITS-G5 is that 20 years of development and standards-setting activity means that it is thoroughly tested and proven.

There’s one added wrinkle, though, in that C-V2X and 5G technologies offer a forward-looking evolutionary path and compatibility with existing cellular technology. It is only recently that the ITS community has begun to contemplate an evolutionary path for ITS-G5 V2V technology.

Evolving next generation ITS-G5 technology will mean yet another round of testing, putting this next gen solution on a level market adoption playing field while offering inferior performance. At the same time, there is no business model to support the required investment in infrastructure for ITS-G5. Wireless carriers, meanwhile, are already committed to the widespread rollout of C-V2X and 5G.

As the EU dithers over V2V technology, at the Shanghai Auto Show yesterday 13 Chinese car companies jointly announced their commitment to the mass production of C-V2X-equipped cars beginning in 2020. The 13 companies include SAIC, GAC, Dongfeng, Changan, FAW, BAIC, Jianghuai, Great Wall, Southeast, Zotye, Jiangling, BYD, Yutong. It's as if China is adding global vehicle connectivity leadership to its already dominant position in electric vehicle development and deployment.

It is likely that decision makers in China recognize a cellular-based approach to inter-vehicle communications is preferred in an IoT-infused world. C-V2X and, eventually, 5G offer the best performance and lowest cost with ubiquitous availability and increasing capacity.  Connected cars should not be locked into using 20-year-old V2V technology unless they are required to be by the European Parliament.

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