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Qualcomm on 5G for Automotive Applications: More Cellular Modems!

by Chris Taylor | Oct 23, 2018

At the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit Analyst & Media Briefings yesterday, Patrick Little, SVP & GM of Automotive, made a case for Snapdragon processors replacing the many separate ECUs (electronic control units) in cars today, and talked about auto makers’ sometimes unreasonable expectations for electronics in automobiles, including 5G.

It seems clear that electronics can help reduce the 1.25 million automobile-related fatalities that occur globally each year.  Beyond automotive radar, which only allows reaction to what it can see, cellular can provide V2V and V2X communications to reduce side, rear-end and chain-reaction collisions.  Today about 29 percent of new cars have cellular modems built in, but future cars will probably have two modems per vehicle, one for software updates to the electronic systems, and one for infotainment.  Some of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors include cellular, and all can work synergistically with cellular.

Displays in the 5G Vehicle (Courtesy of Qualcomm, October 2018) 

Some OEMs want 12 displays in cars, all of them 4K UHD.  This may seem excessive, but cars could easily have at least front and dual passenger rear infotainment displays, navigation display, instrument cluster,  head-up display (HUD), backup display, and three rearview mirrors replaced by displays.  To be honest, looking at Qualcomm’s artist rendition of a car interior with all of the displays gave me vertigo.  5G would be needed to support the streaming video for the high-resolution infotainment displays as well as providing V2X safety capabilities.

Automakers believe that revenue from the services enabled by electronics in the 5G car will exceed the selling price of the vehicle, but the auto makers really do not know how they will persuade consumers to pay for this.  

It seems more likely that autonomy up to level 3, navigation integrated with heads-up display and voice control, AI, and 5G will become table stakes just to be able to sell a car.  Patrick thinks that Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy is about 15 years away.  In any case, innovations in automobiles, enabled by wireless communications, processors and sensors, have accelerated and cut product life cycles to maybe five or six years, a much faster pace than the 10 year lifecycle traditional for automobiles.  With 5G, the pace will only increase.

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