Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

EU & V2X: Misguided Minister

by Roger Lanctot | 5月 08, 2019

The determined pursuit of "talking car" technology has introduced a phenomenon unique to the automotive industry. It is a malady that touches a wide range of victims from senior executives to regulators, engineers, and even car safety campaigners. This disease has now deeply infected the European Commission and, as evidence, I present Commission transport minister Violeta Bulc.

Before we review Minister Bulc's comments in a recent interview, let's consider the symptoms and let's call the disease Wifitis. Wifitis emerged 20 years ago as automotive engineers sought a wireless technology that would allow cars to communicate and thereby avoid colliding with one another.

Suffering from Wifitis, advocates of this approach to collision mitigation foresaw the creation of a wireless network that would enable the creation of a comprehensive wireless transportation eco-system encompassing toll paying, traffic light signal phase and timing communications, pedestrian notifications and even weather, traffic, parking, fuel, and discounts for roadside services. Unfortunately for these dreamers, the cellular industry emerged and overtook these automotive dreams of a walled garden of inter-vehicle connectivity.

Wifitis set in, however, the symptoms of which allowed these engineers to close their minds to the widening impact of cellular systems and the capabilities of those networks - including direct device-to-device (or car-to-car) communications without network access. The main manifestation of wifitis is denial of reality. The most dangerous form of the disease infects regulators, like Minister Bulc.

Minister Bulc recently spoke with Euractiv regarding the passage of the so-called Delegated Act privileging Wi-Fi-based dedicated short range communication (DSRC) technology over cellular-based 5G and C-V2X for inter-vehicle communications. The decision taken by the European Parliament creates a de facto mandate for DSRC for accessing cooperative intelligent transportation system (C-ITS) applications in Europe. (A legal challenge to the approval process has since arisen introducing a two-month delay before it can be adopted EU-wide.)

Minister Bulc shows evidence of a particularly virulent form of Wifitis as demonstrated by her comments to Euractiv. Let's take them one at a time:

Full interview: - "Bulc Urges 5g Advocates to Focus on Autonomous Driving Leave Connected Cars to Wi-Fi - Euractiv

"Wi-Fi is a proven technology and has almost no patents* on it anymore. It’s available now, is easy to implement and it’s cheap. It’s affordable for everyone."

Since when, exactly, did the EU prioritize patent-free technologies for automotive safety? Is this a new standard of efficacy? Certainly this principle was not applied when the eCall mandate was decided - requiring archaic in-band modem technology to be retrofitted across the EU and in cars.

Wi-Fi-based technology for V2X communications is neither "cheap" for auto makers nor is it cheap for public authorities that must pay for roadside infrastructure and network connections. In fact, for most applications, Wi-Fi-based technologies are not only expensive they will be rendered redundant by C-V2X and 5G technologies.

"One of the main political points during my mandate was to improve road safety and set up a systemic approach to it. I suffer personally when I see that 25,000 people lose their lives every year and 137,000 are seriously injured."

The safety argument is a sound one - but there is nothing "systemic" about implementing a 20-year-old technology that is incompatible with existing technologies, inferior in performance, more expensive, lacking a path to funding and implementation, and also in need of a forward facing evolutionary plan.

"Now, people want us to wait three or four years in case the new technology becomes available. We have technology that can be deployed now and can save lives. I don’t want to be part of those statistics. I don’t want my kids, my friends, anyone a part of those three year statistics because we had the technology and didn’t act."

Cellular-based C-V2X technology has been tested and proven across multiple continents with some car companies having already announced their deployment plans. No car company is waiting. Should the Wi-Fi-based option insisted upon by the EU move forward, however, many car companies will delay all of their V2X implementation plans - with the possible exception of Volkswagen. 

"What we’ve seen is that the current approach has exhausted the existing tools, so we have to move on. Being an engineer by profession, I am annoyed by misleading information out there that says WiFi is challenging existing business models of 5G. It’s not challenging any of the development or deployment of 5G, because they serve a completely different purpose. I would advocate that car-to-car signalling should be free. This should be a service offered on the same level as emergency calls, no-one should make profit out of it."

Minister Bulc may be an engineer, but she is clearly no marketeer. Nothing is free in the automotive industry. Even adding a lowly rivet to a car creates cost. V2X technology of any kind adds hardware and software cost, liability, testing and validation costs and even weight!

As for the cost of transmitting messages between cars and between cars and infrastructure and just about anything else, yes, the C-V2X and 5G PC-5 interfaces will enable free connectivity. As an engineer, Ministar Bulc should know that. Who is being misleading now?

Minister Bulc believes that "no one should make a profit" out of a safety application. Here she has the marketing proposition absolutely upside down. There is great profit opportunity in safety applications. These should not be cast out the window and V2X cannot and should not be divorced from the value propositions and business models inherent in 5G connectivity.

In fact, 5G cellular technology has its own contribution to make to safety applications including enhanced positioning and, of course, direct vehicle-to-vehicle connections that surpass current Wi-Fi-based in range, latency, and capacity.

"WiFi is the only option that is available. We will issue a call for testing 5G but there is no product on the market today that we could test, set standards for or deploy. There is nothing on the market, will there be in two, three, four years? I don’t know. It’s too much of a gamble."

Here, Minister Bulc shifts from misinformation to disinformation. Multiple suppliers of 5G technology working in concert with car makers and carriers have demonstrated 5G and C-V2X technologies in cross-boarder European trials as well as in the U.S. and China. The technology exists, has been tested and is ready for deployment following spectrum allocation and the conclusion of some standards-setting activities.

"The backward compatibility issue is not a challenge, it’s a little protocol that sits in between. It has been overplayed. This is about a service that we should be able to provide regardless of technology and which can save lives. It can come from a satellite or come from WiFi. I will be the biggest advocate of making that service free too."

Minister Bulc begins to trail off into incoherence here. The backward compatibility issue - an EU requirement that Wi-Fi-based DSRC be inter-operable with C-V2X and/or 5G - is a red herring. The EU is the only geography where such a prospect has even been suggested - not in the U.S., Japan or China has there been any such consideration.

"We are not talking about autonomous mobility here, this is just a simple feature to save lives. I am so in favor of C-ITS [Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems] because it’s affordable for all price ranges of cars, for pedestrians, cyclists and so on."

Again, Minister Bulc is nearly incoherent here as C-ITS technology has a real cost whether it is implemented in infrastructure, on a car, for a pedestrian, or for cyclists. It is well known that the ubiquity of cellular works in its favor in this regard. There is no path or plan for introducing C-ITS on consumer mobile devices. A much bigger issue, of course, is Minister Bulc's obfuscation of the implied cost of deploying a unique, single-application wireless network to support C-ITS technology. Estimated cost for the U.S.? $200B The E.U.? Who will pay? Is she counting on some sort of Brexit dividend to fund Wi-Fi-based V2X on the continent?

"Obviously, they must have some sort of business model in mind since they’re fighting for this safety feature so much. But I don’t think this feature should be for sale. It shouldn’t just be a feature for the most expensive cars."

I can't think of a faster way to make V2X technology unappealing to car makers than to insist that it be free. The technology has a value and business models must be massaged and manipulated to bundle safety and non-safety applications to make them appealing or actually unavoidable for consumers. Safety for free means no safety at all.

"So far, they’ve been very positive about C-ITS and it’s only been Spain and Finland that have raised concerns about compatibility issues. For the rest, we’ll see. But I did not expect this would be challenged so much by the telecoms industry."

It is not only the telecom industry that is opposed to Wi-Fi-based V2X. Car makers, too, are very much opposed to a de facto mandate of Wi-Fi-based V2X technology - with the possible exception of Volkswagen and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi.

"This is about setting a standardized framework. Take Japan for example. When they introduced the system in 2016, they decreased the number of accidents by 30% in the first year. A University of Michigan study showed that the US could cut fatalities by 12% per year if the technology was rolled out."

More disinformation from Ministar Bulc. Any life saving directly attributable to Wi-Fi-based V2X technology would take years. There will be no immediate life-saving from either Wi-Fi or cellular-based solutions.

"Why aren’t we proceeding with something that is already available? The only reason I’ve heard is that designs already include 5G, so there is no room for the WiFi chip to be included. I’m an engineer. This is not a good enough reason. That leads me to believe that it is a matter of principles and I couldn’t care less about principles when we’re talking about lives."

This comment reflects simple ignorance. Opponents of the measure have spelled out their objections in great detail in statements filed with the Commission.

"I think my team did an excellent job and another report on C-V2X [another form of cellular technology] showed this week that it is also not ready. If and when 5G or V2X is ready, telecoms operators can submit it, it can be checked against the rules and they can immediately start implementing it."

Again, misinformation from Minister Bulc. The Delegated Act specifically requires Wi-Fi-based technology be used to access C-ITS services. The EU is eliminating market forces from consideration, to say nothing of improvements in performance.

"But think of it like this, do you really think that in five years time we will be able to deploy 5G everywhere? In all rural areas? No. I understand it when we talk about urban areas, it’s a critical mass. So why wouldn’t you use WiFi, even for the next 30 years, in areas where 5G just doesn’t make business sense."

Again, Minister Bulc ignores the reality that even Wi-Fi technology will require network infrastructure. Why install 20-year-old technology in remote areas?

"You can never be confident about anything here. I’m just trying to be heard. Interestingly enough, I invited telecoms companies to come discuss this with me but nobody wanted to find the time. They talked to my technical people but not with me."

A few final notes here. If Minister Bulc wanted to be heard she can rest assured that she has been heard. And now she is free to be ashamed. Her own Transport Committee rejected the Delegated Act, yet she still supports it. She says she invited telecoms companies to discuss the matter - but all accounts clearly indicate that her designated representatives refused to listen.

The best thing for Minister Bulc to do at this point in time is to reverse herself on this issue or step out of the path of progress. A tsunami of wireless industry investment in C-V2X and 5G technology is zeroing in on the automotive industry threatening to help solve such challenges as automated driving and mounting highway fatalities. Surf's up, time's up, Minister Bulc. Let's nip Wifitis in the EU.

*Nokia, Daimler and Bury Technologies are currently knotted in a legal battle over connected car intellectual property claimed by Nokia. Details:

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