by Ed Garsten
Call it a virtual Tower of Babel creating a situation where vehicles equipped with technology to “converse” with each other, even traffic signals, will be limited to communicating only with those speaking the same electronic language.
The situation was further exacerbated last November when the Federal Communications Commission decided to narrow the bandwidth available for automotive communication, in effect, favoring one technology over the other.
It’s all related to the concept called vehicle- to-everything, or V2X, communication. Sensors installed on vehicles “talk” to similarly equipped vehicles to let them know where they are on the road, helping to avoid collisions, along with anything else that could come into play during a drive including traffic signals, street lights, cyclists or pedestrians.
The issue is the two main V2X technologies are not compatible, just as long ago, you couldn’t play a VHS video tape in a Beta machine and vice versa. Today’s tech tete-a-tete is cellular, or C-V2X, versus dedicated short range communication or DSRC, and unlike that long ago video format battle, a clear winner hasn’t yet emerged.
“We think the global market will be fragmented into submarkets,” said Szabolcs Patay, Chief Revenue Officer at Commsignia Ltd. a Budapest, Hungary V2X technology company in an interview.
C-V2X uses long term evolution (LTE), the same chip technology used by most cell phones.
DSRC uses a wireless standard that is derived as a version of the Wi-Fi, optimized for vehicular safety related communications.
Both is using a communication protocol set referred to as “WAVE”
In the United States C-V2X was given a boost by a controversial ruling by the FCC which limited just the upper 30 megahertz of the 5.9 gigahertz band to communication related to the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) and named C-V2X as the technology standard rather than DSRC.
“While the Commission designated Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) services as the technology standard for ITS services over twenty years ago, DSRC has not been meaningfully deployed, and this critical mid-band spectrum has largely been unused for decades. Today’s action therefore begins the transition away from DSRC services—which are incompatible with C-V2X—to hasten the actual deployment of ITS services that will improve automotive safety,” the FCC said in its statement announcing the change.
The lower 45 MHz was reserved to so-called “unlicensed” wireless communications which is actually WiFi.
In his statement on the ruling former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained the move was made to both make more room on the spectrum for WiFi which has become so vital in accommodating video conferencing and work from home requirements since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged a year ago citing “The economic value created by Wi-Fi in the United States is projected to double by 2023—reaching nearly $1 trillion.”
Score a big one for C-V2X which had previously won over Ford Motor Co., which said in 2019 it would start installing the technology in its vehicles during calendar year 2022. But in Europe, Volkswagen AG, the world’s largest automaker, is already building DSRC-equipped vehicles setting the tone for the rest of the continent. In China, the world’s biggest automotive market, automakers have sided with C-V2X.
What that leaves is a situation where C-V2X would appear to have momentum, but not nearly in a situation to assume eventual global victory.
“There will be different standards that will be used in the U.S., in Europe, China and maybe other smaller countries,” said Commsignia’s Szabolcs Patay. “We believe Europe will be the region with DSRC will prevail although this is not necessary a final decision.”
Regardless of which technology prevails, Patay says automakers must accelerate the speed at which they install V2X capabilities in their vehicles, decrying some stated start of production dates as 2023-2024.
He says V2X sensors are not only relatively inexpensive but such capabilities are becoming even more vital as the move towards self-driving vehicles marches on. Indeed, Patay notes that in Europe the safety advantages V2X can provide have created a strong sentiment to make the technology “de facto mandatory.”
“The conversation will not be about why do you need air bags or why do you need safety bags or why do you need V2X,” said Patay. “It’s more how do you maximize the benefits of V2X. These trends are really moving forward to create an automotive industry and transportation space where V2X will be everywhere.”
It may be everywhere eventually, but unless the world settles on a V2X standard, some regions may be stuck with the equivalent of Beta.