Why is 5G Crucial for Autonomous Vehicles?

Autonomous vehicles rely on their communications systems to operate safely, reliably and efficiently. These communications systems come under the umbrella term V2X, or vehicle-to-everything, which has been a vital part of how modern vehicles have continued to evolve.

But, regardless of how sophisticated these systems are, and the technology driving them continues to advance, what underpins them is their communications network. For this reason, 5G is crucial in the ongoing development and use of autonomous vehicles.

What does V2X involve?

Vehicles must interact with other vehicles, pedestrians and their environment. They do this through connectivity. This connectivity comes from the interoperability of a vehicle’s own system with other systems external to it.

The established standard for doing this is known as dedicated short range communications, or DSRC, which is a variant of Wi-Fi that is designed to work regardless of weather conditions or technical issues. In Europe, this is known as IEEE 802.11p.

Now there is a competing standard, known as C-V2X, which stands for cellular V2X. This offers improved capacity, reliability and performance.

Fundamental to both systems are high relative speeds, low latency and performance that is safety-critical. Therefore, while V2X offers advanced capabilities for autonomous vehicles, it also presents certain challenges.

What are the challenges to V2X?

Vehicle-to-everything communication faces challenges on three fronts:

  • Technological
  • Environmental
  • Organisational

We have already touched on the organisational challenge in referring to the two competing standards for V2X, the Wi-Fi offshoot IEEE 802.11p, or DSRC, and the cellular V2X system.

There is also the question of the 5G rollout, and how this will eventually happen in practice, and how widespread acceptance and adoption of autonomous vehicles might then be. 5G mobile networks are still in the development stage, and the recent controversy surrounding the UK Government’s decision to ban Huawei from involvement adds an air of uncertainty to a future rollout. This ban also applies in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan and the USA.

However, countries are legislating in individual ways regarding 5G. South Korea was the first to adopt it on a large scale last year. Meanwhile, Ericsson has predicted that 5G will cover up to 65 per cent of the global population by 2025.

Environmental issues surrounding 5G are really to do with how you ensure that autonomous vehicles can operate safely in the real world, without any risks when testing their performance.

There are also environmental issues that arise from network communications problems or inadequate coverage. For autonomous vehicles to have a broad market appeal, the network capability must be there to support them.

This is also a technological challenge for V2X. Cars are sensitive, with multiple communication sensors, but then so is information itself. Data security and the privacy of information and security of networks are integral to the success of V2X.

Any vehicle-to-everything system will only be as effective as the communications network supporting it. Consequently, when designers and engineers test V2X, they must consider the impact of network communications failures and cyber-threats and attacks.

Why is 5G a crucial factor?

For a future where autonomous vehicles are pretty much the norm, there has to be a robust, adaptable and fully supportive communications network in place. For autonomous vehicles to expand their market, the 5G rollout has to happen.

V2X communication brings with it wider possibilities for communication, including automatic interaction with parking spaces, garages and toll collection.

To realise the full potential of V2X, the automotive industry requires widespread availability of 5G networks.

5G is not simply a faster version of 4G; it is an evolutionary step forward. Firstly, it offers significantly enhanced broadband speeds. Secondly, it enables massive machine type communications. Finally, it offers ultra-reliable, low-latency communications.

5G has the potential to be up to 100 times faster than 4G, with low latency as the key differentiator. It achieves this low latency through its advanced mobile technology and network architecture.

How can 5G help V2X improve road safety?

There are several major ways in which V2X can improve road safety, with the support of an extensive 5G network:

Avoiding collisions – V2X could enable each vehicle to broadcast its identity, position, direction and speed

Warning of hazards ahead – extending what the vehicle can see beyond its normal line of sight

Co-operative driving – minimising disruption and traffic congestion through exchanging data rapidly across networks

Platooning – enabling vehicles to form tight, but safe convoys to maximise road space while minimising fuel consumption.

How to test network effectiveness?

Increasingly, in the age of the smart vehicle, designers and engineers must test vehicles rigorously beyond the normal indicators of roadworthiness. This testing should include the connectivity of the vehicle, and how this impacts the safety and performance.

Whereas, historically, the major factors affecting road safety would be a combination of the vehicle’s mechanical performance, the driver’s own skills and external road conditions, now networks are also a critical factor.

The relationship between the autonomous vehicle and the network it depends on is a close one. Therefore, testing the V2X systems of autonomous vehicles has to involve testing how they will react under challenging network conditions.

We know 5G offers key improvements in network performance, but what happens to an autonomous vehicle if this performance suffers interference of some sort? No network is absolutely impregnable, because cybercrime and cyberthreats evolve in line with technological advances.

Scalable Network Technologies has developed the QualNet and EXata platforms to provide advanced and adaptable network modelling and simulation capabilities for testing V2X.

These capabilities will help with researching security, the interoperability of devices and radio interference or network congestion. All of them can impact on safety, cyber vulnerability, performance, liability and other issues.

ST Engineering Antycip, in partnership with Scalable Network Technologies, is hosting the forthcoming webinar, Connectivity: The Autonomous Car Era.

You can find out more details about it here.

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