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Beamforming and bickering; wireless giants get to grips with automotive

The past week has seen two announcements that illustrate the cellular industry’s attempts to diversify into automotive applications. One was a demonstration of private LTE networks at a US race car track, using the CBRS band (see separate item). The other saw  Ericsson, SK Telecom, and BMW using prototype 5G technologies to demonstrate a 28GHz beamforming technique that could push a 3.6Gbps stream to a moving vehicle.

Next-gen vehicles are going to have a number of different wireless requirements. First off, in-car media consumption will require a data pipe to provide audio and video content to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, as well as the packets to power the IVI’s navigation systems.

The MNOs are in the midst of trying to prove to automakers that their cellular networks and offerings are key to the development of the connected car – and eventually fully autonomous vehicles. With troubling times looming on the horizon for their core consumer markets, the IoT as a whole represents a new opportunity for growth – with automotive applications looking to be particularly high-value targets.

The next step for these vehicles, in terms of capabilities, will be to the connectivity to provide remote diagnostics, management, and interaction between the car and its owner, as well as its manufacturer and third-parties like insurers or fleet operators. Engine telematics, ECU read-outs, miles travelled, fuel consumption – all those types of data need some way out of the vehicle and into the relevant cloud applications.

The next evolution would be enable vehicles to talk to things in their vicinity, collectively referred to as V2V (Vehicle-to-X), and encompasses traffic systems and smart city infrastructure, as well as direct V2V communication. Being able to push navigation information to vehicles is a useful tool, but scenarios like crowdsourced road condition reports are other strong candidates for such connectivity requirements.

In terms of a final step, the V2V connectivity needs to advance to a point where it can be used in real time peer-to-peer communication – to facilitate functions such as emergency braking, collision avoidance, vehicle platooning, and fully autonomous driving. While these advanced vehicles are going to be able to drive themselves even when they lose network connectivity, they form part of an ecosystem that requires mass collaboration.

And to this end, direct communications between vehicles on the same roads is required, and LTE hopes to be able to provide that capability. In the first piece of news, Ericsson and SK Telecom went to the races, in order to demonstrate 5G beamforming for automotive applications – using the 28 GHz band to send a 3.6Gbps stream to a BMW car on the move.

As SK Telecom put it: “Connected car is regarded as the barometer for 5G, as it can only be realized through the combination of all 5G technologies. As ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency are prerequisites for realizing autonomous driving and immersive media services, the 3.6Gbps transmission speed we successfully demonstrated not only brings us a step closer to realizing autonomous driving, but will also have a great impact on a broader range of industries.”

While the wireless vendors and operators see the auto sector as a business opportunity, in the US the two segments are also at loggerheads over the 5.9 GHz spectrum band.

One of the important and intractable disputes going on in US spectrum is future usage of the 5.9 GHz band. The mobile and TV industries have banded together to call on the FCC to act quickly to make this available for internet use. However, this band is currently dedicated to the auto industry’s DSRC (dedicated short range communications) for V2X vehicular communications, and the auto sector is opposing rechannelization.

Qualcomm, Broadcom and the TV industry body, the NCTA, believe that expanded WiFi can be enabled alongside the safety applications enabled by DSRC, if safety critical services are separated from other traffic by rechannelizing the band.

“While DSRC safety technologies may someday become widespread, this is the perfect moment to put in place forward-looking, efficiency-maximizing sharing rules, without the need for challenging relocation, database or SAS approaches seen in other bands,” said the WiFi supporters. “The time to act is now, and the rechannelization proposal we support provides a clear path to achieving these benefits while protecting emerging latency-sensitive, safety-critical DSRC applications.”

They claim that the auto industry is not opposing the scheme because of technical or safety concerns, but because they want to support non-safety commercial services too. “It appears that DSRC proponents want more than this,” said the filing. “They appear to want to secure all 75 MHz of the 5.9 GHz U-NII-4 band for entertainment, telemetry, commerce, and other non-safety applications without willingness to provide any meaningful sharing opportunities.”

Carmakers say they are worried about degradation of DSRC if the band were rechannelized, as well as potential interference if unlicensed services are allowed in the 6 GHz band, if these are allowed as low as 5.925 GHz.

The proposal from Qualcomm, Broadcom and NCTA is that the FCC should designate the upper 30 MHz of the U-NII-4 band exclusively for and permit WiFi to share the lower 45 MHz of the band with other DSRC services that are non-sensitive, such as e-commerce and infotainment.

The current DSRC rules designate two 10- MHz channels for safety-critical applications, while “the rechannelization proposal provides three 10- MHz channels exclusively for safety-critical applications, thereby increasing the amount of spectrum reserved for safety signals, rather than decreasing channels as some automakers incorrectly assert,” the companies said.

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