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23 April 2019

GSMA rails against EU’s preference for WiFi-based V2X standard

The European Union is making a disastrous choice in pursuing its favored ITS-G5 specification against the cellular alternative, C-V2X, argues the GSMA, which represents the mobile operators.

The ITS-G5 specifications are based on the IEEE 802.11p standard for WiFi-like V2X (vehicle to everything), and there are ongoing battles in many regions between this and the 4G-based technology, which has a 5G migration path. The EU has issued proposals which come down in favor of the 11p solution. In an exasperated letter, the GSMA claimed a number of flaws in those proposals, and called for lawmakers to rethink the issue.

Europe is the region that is most in favor of the 802.11p approach, while the C-V2X alternative is the main focus of most other regions which are currently exploring the issue. Of course, the cellular industry would like Europe to plump for its V2X variant, but the automotive industry would also enjoy some efficiency savings if it only had to make one global V2X decision – although it’s already a very regionally-fractured industry, so perhaps this is not as pressing a concern as it might seem from the outside.

As expected, both sides of the argument present claims in favor of their respective technology, but the GSMA does raise some points that are worth discussing further. The letter, penned by GSMA director general Mats Granryd, rails against the Delegated Act on C-ITS. In it, Granryd says that “approving the Delegated Act in its current form would be a grave disservice to European citizens and their safety on the roads”.

With the tone set, Granryd says that the Act’s favoring of WiFi is widely opposed by key stakeholders, and that the automotive industry is divided. Granryd says that only one automaker is planning to equip a car with ITS-G5 by 2020, while saying that the newer C-V2X is the better choice.

Volkswagen, the second largest automaker globally, and Renault, are in favor of ITS-G5, but on the other side, BMW, Daimler, Ford, and the PSA Group support C-V2X – along with the usual cellular suspects, chief of which are the MNOs, Intel, Huawei, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Next, the DG argues that C-V2X performs better than 802.11p in terms of “security, reliability, range, and latency”, although we would stress that improvements to ITS-G5 could certainly be made in time. There’s also the winding up of the Car2MEC project last week, which showed that latency isn’t exactly a solved problem in V2X.

Granryd says that the Act “tries to overcome its obvious shortcomings by including a review clause that allows for other technologies to become part of the C-ITS ecosystem [but] this is simply not possible. To be added to C-ITS there are demands of ‘interoperability’ and ‘backwards compatibility.”

Granryd likens this to trying to get a DVD to work in a VHS player, and unless that clause is adjusted, then this will always be a valid complaint. However, if the clause is adjusted sufficiently, there’s a pretty good chance that, while the GSMA would still be angry about the first choice being ITS-G5, there may well be enough market power to ensure that C-V2X gets chosen.

Earlier in the letter, Granryd illustrates this imbalance, while arguing that 802.11p is a decade old, saying that it has seen little commercial development to date. Part of this has been down to the FCC regulations for its use in the 5.9 GHz DSRC band, which for a long time was set aside for V2X usage but in recent years has come under lobbyist pressure to free up the unused DSRC allocation and let WiFi variants make use of it.

In that environment, any investment into what has long-looked like doomed spectrum made little sense, and so that would stymie 802.11p development. However, the technology could be used in 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz bands too, yet it has seen very little enthusiasm from the market.

To this end, it is fair of the GSMA to make that argument, but it is worth remembering that the entire market is still immature. It is not surprising that 802.11p was not being explored five or ten years ago with any great enthusiasm. Automakers collectively haven’t managed to connect every vehicle to the internet, never mind to each other or to surrounding transport infrastructure. If they can’t collectively manage simple tracking and telematics applications, it is not at all surprising that they aren’t focused on more bleeding-edge use cases like pedestrian safety at intersections and crowd control for roads.

The GSMA, the group promoting 5G, also argues that backing ITS-G5 is in conflict with the EU’s 5G Action Plan, which calls for all “major terrestrial transport paths to have uninterrupted 5G coverage by 2025”. To this end, wouldn’t it make sense to use that mandated network to handle V2X?

The use cases do overlap somewhat, so it might not be such a clear case of this-or-that. You could feasibly use ITS-G5 for V2X, with the 5G networks there to cater for in-vehicle applications and passengers. Some like the sound of two distinct networks, in terms of resiliency and interference concerns, but the C-V2X technology does include a direct vehicle-to-vehicle mode that doesn’t need to travel across network infrastructure, so that could be something of a damp squib.

So with voting due next week, the GSMA is imploring lawmakers to vote against the Act. In closing, Granryd writes: “We fully understand that the Commission wants to use technology to reduce the unacceptable amount of road fatalities. Our industry shares that goal. But this Delegated Act fails to achieve that. If adopted, Europe will find itself on a dead-end road, locked into an antiquated technology choice to connect cars and infrastructure. We therefore urge you to the reject the Delegated Act, which is bad for competition, bad for innovation, bad for road safety and bad for European citizens.”