Connected cars: How 5G and IoT will affect the auto industry

Your next new car won't be self-driving, but it will be a mobile IoT device that senses its local environment and communicates with cloud-based platforms.
Written by Charles McLellan, Senior Editor

Autonomous cars (and other vehicles, such as trucks) may still be years away from widespread deployment, but connected cars are very much with us. The modern automobile is fast becoming a sensor-laden mobile Internet of Things device, with considerable on-board computing power and communication systems devoted to three broad areas: vehicle location, driver behaviour, engine diagnostics and vehicle activity (telematics); the surrounding environment (vehicle-to-everything or V2X communication); and the vehicle's occupants (infotainment). All of these systems use cellular -- and increasingly 5G -- technology, among others.

Although 5G networks are still a work in progress for mobile operators, the pace of deployment and launches is picking up. By the end of 2019, according to the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), 61 operators in 34 countries had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services. Of those, 49 operators had launched 5G mobile services, while 34 had launched FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) or home broadband services. Furthermore, the GSA said, 77 operators had deployed 3GPP-compliant technology in their networks and 348 operators in 119 countries were investing in 5G.  

[mage: GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

3GPP Release 16, which is due to be finalised by mid-2020, is an important milestone because it completes phase 2 of the 5G specification, catering for standalone networks that deliver not only enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and FWA, but also ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC, important for automotive use cases) and massive machine-type communication (mMTC, important for IoT use cases). Rel 16 also includes specifications around cellular V2X (C-V2X), covering areas like platooning, extended sensors, automated and remote driving.

Image: 3GPP

Work is now underway on Rel 17, which will include: enhancements to low-power wide-area connectivity (NB-IoT); a new feature called NR Light, which will cater for low-power/high-bandwidth wearable and IoT devices; support for millimetre-wave spectrum above 52.6GHz; MIMO enhancements; and support for non-terrestrial (satellite) networks.

5G and IoT

Clearly the pieces are moving into place for the rapid growth of 5G-connected IoT solutions in the automotive space. That's certainly the view of analyst firm Gartner, which in October 2019 forecast that by 2023 the automotive industry will be the largest market opportunity for 5G IoT solutions, representing 53% of the total 5G IoT endpoint market in that year.

Gartner predicts that the 5G IoT endpoint installed base will grow nearly 14-fold in the next three years, from 3.5 million units in 2020 to 48.6 million units in 2023. In 2020, the market will be dominated by outdoor surveillance cameras (2.5m units, 70% market share), but by 2023 these will have been overtaken by automotive solutions:

Data: Gartner / Image: ZDNet

"As the automotive industry will be the largest sector for IoT endpoints and 5G IoT use cases in the long term, we recommend that CSPs that want to be relevant in the 5G IoT market put this industry at the forefront of their investments. They should do this in terms of personnel who understand the sector and of partnerships that will move the market forward," said Stephanie Baghdassarian, senior research director at Gartner, in a statement.

The leading use case for 5G in the automotive space in 2023 will be embedded connected car modules for commercial and consumer vehicles (19.1m units, 39% market share), Gartner predicts, followed by fleet telematics devices (5.1m units, 11% market share) and in-vehicle toll devices (1.5m devices, 3% market share).

The share of 5G-connected cars that are actively connected to a 5G service will grow from 15% in 2020 to 74% in 2023, reaching 94% in 2028, Gartner says. By then, C-V2X will enable the exchange of messages within and between vehicles, and with infrastructure, pedestrians, cyclists and other elements of the environment. "Ultimately, connected cars actively connected to a 5G service will help keep traffic moving and improve road safety," says the analyst firm.

Road safety and mobile coverage on the roads

There is certainly plenty of incentive to improve road safety. In the UK, the Department for Transport reports that there were 1,770 road deaths in the year ending June 2018 (nearly five a day), with 26,610 killed or seriously injured (73 a day) and 165,100 casualties of all severities (452 a day). Of the 21,610 killed or seriously injured, 37% were motorists, 23% pedestrians, 22% motorcyclists and 14% cyclists.

But if cellular connectivity -- and C-V2X in particular -- is to deliver safer driving, then mobile coverage on the roads has a long way to go.

C-V2X has two communication modes: direct communication over the PC5 interface on the unlicensed 5.9GHz band, for use cases requiring low latency such as V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) and V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian) applications; and latency-tolerant V2N (vehicle-to-network) communication over the Uu interface on regular licensed-band cellular networks, for use cases like infotainment and updates on longer range road hazards or traffic conditions.

A fully functional C-V2X ecosystem not only requires the widespread deployment of roadside units (RSUs) and on-board units to support direct communication, but also good cellular connectivity on the roads for V2N communication.

Image: Ofcom, Connected Nations 2019 report.

In its Connected Nations 2019 report, UK regulator Ofcom estimates that, within vehicles, 4G data coverage from all four mobile operators is available on 62% of motorways and A roads, and 46% of B roads; outside vehicles, 4G data coverage rises to 88% of motorways and A roads, and 80% of B roads. For voice calls the picture is better: 81% of motorways and A roads, and 68% of B roads have coverage from all operators within vehicles, rising to 95% and 90% respectively outside vehicles. Coverage for emergency calls -- which can be made on any network -- is pretty much universal (99%/96% in vehicle, ~100%/99% outside vehicle).

No comparable figures are available for 5G coverage on the roads yet, but network coverage checkers are available for EE, O2 and Vodafone if you want to look up specific areas. The fourth UK mobile operator, Three, reported in November 2019 that its 5G rollout was "slightly behind our original plan".

There's clearly a lot of 5G deployment to go if Gartner's 2023 forecast is to prove correct. Another issue is that the Wi-Fi-based (802.11p) rival to C-V2X is still in play in Europe (as ITS-G5) and the US (as DSRC). Ensuring the security of connected and autonomous cars is another important area where progress is required.

Connected car platforms

Gartner's 2019 Hype Cycle for Connected Vehicles and Smart Mobility places 5G at the Peak of Inflated Expectations (along with 'micromobility', 'in-vehicle advanced UX and UI' and 'smart city transportation strategy'). Gartner covers 26 topics in this Hype Cycle, 16 of which are 'Sliding into the Trough' (of Disillusionment), which tells you a lot about the state of this sector. Here you'll find 'mobility-as-a-service', 'over-the-air software updates', 'vehicle-to-vehicle communications', 'autonomous vehicles' and 'driver monitoring systems', among other topics. Just two areas — 'connected car platforms' and 'in-vehicle wireless connectivity' — are deemed to be Climbing the Slope (of Enlightenment) towards mainstream deployment.

As cars become ever more connected, generating and handling ever-larger amounts of data, so software companies and cloud providers are becoming increasingly involved in the automotive industry. Microsoft is a leading player in this market with its Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP). MCVP integrates Microsoft's IoT, security, connectivity and edge-computing technology into a cloud-based solution that connects vehicles to mobility services. Vehicle sensor telemetry flows into an Azure-hosted data lake, on top of which OEMs — which include Volkswagen and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi — can build their own solutions, leveraging Azure's analytics capabilities. Microsoft notes that "the platform is designed to incorporate the latest technologies as they develop, ensuring that connected vehicle solutions stay up-to-date", citing 5G and V2X as an example. 

In December 2019, Ericsson announced plans to integrate its Connected Vehicle Cloud -- which, it says, connects over 4 million vehicles across 180 countries worldwide -- with MCVP. Other MCVP partners include LG Electronics and Cerence (formerly the automotive division of Nuance).

Microsoft's biggest competitor in the automotive space is BlackBerry's QNX platform, which in June 2019 was estimated to be embedded in over 150 million vehicles. At CES 2020, BlackBerry announced a tie-up between QNX and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

What sort of impact could all this digital transformation have on revenues in the automotive industry? In 2016, analyst firm McKinsey estimated that mobility and data-driven services — shared mobility, apps, navigation, entertainment, remote services, software upgrades — could create around $1.5 trillion of extra revenue, or a 30 percent boost, in 2030 compared to 2016:

Image: McKinsey

Connected vehicles at CES 2020

The automotive sector has featured prominently at CES in recent years, and 2020 was no exception. In the CES 2020 Innovation Awards there were 28 'Honorees' in the Vehicle Intelligence & Transportation category (up from 22 in 2019), and 13 in the In-Vehicle Entertainment & Safety category (versus 12 in 2019). 

There were four 'Best of Innovation' winners in the automotive categories: Bosch 3D Display; Bosch Virtual Visor; Halo Hypersport; and Outsight 3D Semantic Camera.


Halo Hypersport: a connected electric motorcycle.

Image: CES / Damon Motorcycles

Damon Motorcycles' electric-engined Halo Hypersport is an interesting development. Motorcycles are a notoriously dangerous form of transport: in the UK, for example, motorcycles comprise just 3.4% of licensed vehicles (Q3 2019 figures), yet result in 22% of those killed or seriously injured in accidents (year ending June 2018 figures). So any technology that can help riders beat the odds is very welcome. 

The Hypersport includes electronically controlled 4-point adjustable riding positions (Shift), and a 360-degree advanced warning system (CoPilot, which is powered by BlackBerry's QNX platform). The CoPilot sensor suite also collects rider, traffic and vehicle data and delivers over-the-air functionality updates.

Other notable automotive news at CES 2020 included: a concept car from Sony; a flying taxi from Uber and Hyundai; and Snapdragon Ride, a new autonomous driving platform from Qualcomm. 


Your next new car won't be self-driving, but it will be a mobile multi-sensor IoT device -- probably electric and with 5G connectivity on-board -- that senses its local environment and communicates with cloud-based platforms. This will enable new business models in the automotive space, keep drivers better informed about road and traffic conditions, and more effectively assisted in handling them, hopefully resulting in improved traffic flow and fewer accidents. Passengers will have access to better infotainment systems too -- perhaps leading to the replacement of "are we there yet?" with "are we there already?"

Read more

What is V2X communication? Creating connectivity for the autonomous car era

The hunt for security flaws in self-driving cars steps up a gear

Why 5G is a crucial technology for autonomous vehicles

Free PDF download: Autonomous vehicles in the enterprise

AWS, BlackBerry QNX pair up as connected vehicle software takes stage at CES 2020

CES 2020 car show features liquid crystal sun visors, EyeLocks, and smart LiDAR (TechRepublic)

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