Babylonian confusion in the V2X space?
For automated communication between cars or between vehicles and the intelligent infrastructure, Volkswagen relies on a technology called WLANp. This is based on the well-known IEEE 802.11p radio standard, which was developed specifically for V2X applications. It is regarded as technically mature, safe and fast. With it, vehicles can use automated radio telegrams to indicate over distances of up to several hundred meters to indicate potential hazards such as slippery road conditions or obstacles blocking the traffic.
The only problem is that Volkswagen now seems to be the only OEM to use this radio technology. The Golf VIII can only exchange data with its peers, at least until the electric Golf counterpart ID.3, also from Volkswagen, comes onto the market. The latter will also use WLANp radio technology, as a Volkswagen press spokesman told eeNews. Other companies from the Volkswagen Group such as Audi, Seat or Skoda will probably also adopt this technology, but otherwise: no chance.
The majority of the automotive industry now relies on competing standards, mainly the C-V2X technology. Developed by the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), C-V2X is intended to supplement the direct radio connection between vehicles with a mobile radio connection. This would make it possible to significantly expand the application spectrum of automated data communication – without sacrificing the advantage of mobile radio-independent communication with very low latency. The PC5 Sidelink specification allows C-V2X vehicles to exchange data directly with each other. The problem: the C-V2X standard is a moving target, release statuses are being replaced at a rapid pace. There are also regional differences. For example, the Chinese government has already committed itself to the introduction of C-V2X, without, however, being able to specify exact dates and releases.
On the European automotive market, there are already series production models that master vehicle-to-x communication, even though none of them has a market share even close to that of the Volkswagen Golf. Daimler has had a comparable feature for years, starting with its Mercedes E-Class and now also in other models. However, these vehicles communicate indirectly via the mobile network and even use networks as slow as 2G and 3G. It is therefore rather a connection to the cloud; the transmission of really time-critical messages should not be possible. Industry insiders currently describe Daimler’s approach as a proprietary, non-standard solution.
Competitor BMW has also has models with V2X technology in series production since 2016. However, the OEM from Bavaria prefers the designation V2N (Vehicle to Network). This indicates that, just like Mercedes, it is primarily a connection to the backend with subsequent distribution of relevant messages to all vehicles operating in the respective Area.
However, at least BMW’s roadmap envisages further expanding the V2X capabilities of its vehicles and relying on the C-V2X standard. Direct communication between vehicles is to take place via PC5 Sidelink, a feature intended for C-V2X versions. BMW’s roadmap is essentially determined by the regulatory framework, the car manufacturer says. “In line with the clear technological orientation and requirements in China, we are aiming for the first deployment of C-V2X there. For the USA, we expect C-V2X to be approved for the required 5.9 GHz spectrum before the end of 2019. The situation in Europe is unclear following the decision against the Delegated Act (which would in fact have prescribed WLAN-11p),” a BMW spokesperson explained on request.
Planned functional extensions are V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure) and V2P (Vehicle-to-Pedestrian) as well as the general integration of the C-V2X standard regulations on Vulnerable Road Users (VRU). “The latter represents an essential strategic focus, as we are convinced that pedestrians, cyclists and eScooter drivers can only be included in the smartphones through the introduction of C-V2X. The initial integration of C-V2X into smartphones has already been announced to us (still under confidentiality obligation) and will soon be publicly available,” the BMW spokesperson explained.
At present, BMW – probably like other leading vehicle manufacturers – is developing series vehicles with the LTE-V2X PC5 Sidelink Standard according to 3GPP Release 14. Extended functions are to include the 5G-V2X Release 15 and 16 standard. Releases 15 and 16 will be jointly processed in 5GAA with Volkswagen, among others. Volkswagen is also a member of this organization and is thus also preparing for the C-V2X standard. However, the company does not comment on its future plans for C-V2x roofs. It is clear, however, that Release 17 is already in the works, which will incorporate aspects of cyber security into the standard – and that Release 17 “will definitely not be compatible with Release 16,” explained Stefan Hanika-Heidl, CTO of software house Neusoft. Neusoft must know, because it has developed a complete V2X stack and the associated test procedure for the Chinese market.
So is there a threat of Babylonian language confusion on the streets? Ultimately, V2X technology should bring more safety to road traffic – and that is only possible if all vehicles speak the same “language”?
It probably won’t be that bad. It’s true that Volkswagen uses a different process than the rest of the world. But communication “on a functional level” is possible, for example through the V2N connection also available at Volkswagen.
In addition, the specification of one or the other standard does not necessarily mean that the respective car manufacturer is included in his system. Corresponding control units from Tier One such as Bosch and Continental are able to support both standards. Onn Haran, CTO of the semiconductor supplier Autotalks, points out that it is also possible to adapt the vehicles to a changed standard via an OTA software update.
“Eventually, all markets will converge on a single technology, and the over-the-air flexibility would enable an OEM to switch during vehicle lifetime from one technology to the other, if the market converged to a different technology than predicted”, Haran explains. This aspect however gives the update capability of cars a new weight. For future vehicles, it will become indispensable.