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LTE-Vehicular gathers pace with Audi, DT, Huawei and Toyota tests

A group comprising cellular and automotive stakeholders has announced a new set of tests that aim to prove that LTE has a key role to play in the adoption of autonomous vehicles and the improvement their integration with smart cities. Audi, Toyota, Deutsche Telekom and Huawei are planning on convincing the 3GPP that LTE-V is the solution to the problem of connectivity.

Collectively, the group are trying to answer the question of what performance levels can be expected of LTE-V, with a view to using the technology in road sagety and traffic efficiency applications. The testing is taking place on the A9 Motorway Test Bed, at Ingolstadt, in Bavaria, with the results of the tests set to be presented to the 3GPP’s Release 14 working group.

Connected vehicles need ways of directly communicating between each other, as well as to the physical infrastructure in their local vicinity. While the standards that define the content of the message are also pretty important, (Here has published its Sensoris spec on the matter), the physical act of getting the message from one node to another will require radio waves.

The direct vehicle-to-vehicle communications would allow convoying and collision avoidance, but a host of other functions would be enabled by allowing vehicles to be talked to by other things (V2X)– whether that’s traffic lights wanting to know how many vehicles are in a queue, or city infrastructure wishing to know if it needs to adapt operations to scale with changes in traffic.

There are many applications that would benefit from being able to talk to cars. Cities would do a much better job of routing traffic efficiently if they knew the navigational intentions of these cars, but services like per-mile usage charges or zones could also be much more easily implemented if there were more direct links to the vehicles and their occupants.

Local communication would also appeal to the MNOs that might otherwise have to transport this mass of information from the cars, through their back office systems, and to its destination. If a city can quickly push or pull information on what is effectively a very big LAN, the cost of moving that traffic through the wider internet can be mitigated.

That’s a similar consideration for the MNO in terms of RF efficiency too. If vehicles end up being major data generators, then that new volume of data will compete for space on the radio waves – an area that is already fairly congested, and is often the source of very expensive bidding wars between MNOs looking to boost their network capacity.

The demand for RF spectrum does show some signs of waning in certain markets, but it can certainly be viewed as a finite resource – and therefore a new source of congestion. But as that congestion would occupy the bands owned by the MNO, that operator should have the final say in the traffic management protocols it would enforce.

However, that’s not an argument that the likes of IEE 802.11p WiFi can make. The spec is a rival in the V2X arena, but one that seems certain to use the 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz ISM bands – which are already rather crowded, and seem vulnerable to even worse performance if a substantial number of cars and street infrastructure begin to occupy those channels.

LTE-V might make a lot of sense for those countries that don’t use the FCC regulations, which currently include a dedicated piece of the 5.9GHz band that has been allocated for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) – although lobbying from the cable industry might mean that the DSRC bandwidth that has been provisioned for V2X communication might be stricken from the FCC book and given over to WiFi devices.

In the current trial, test vehicles from Audi and Toyota will be communicating with Deutsce Telekom infrastructure, which has been sourced from Huawei. The system is being tested on public roads to ensure that it is subject to realistic network and performance conditions.

LTE-V , in the Huawei form at least, looks like it will be a fairly short range technology. Huawei has previously demonstrated the tech with Chinese automaker SAIC, with demonstrations at the 2015 ITS Asia Pacific Forum. A test with Vodafone and Jaguar Land Rover and Vodafone took place later that year in the UK, and a development incubator in Hangzhou sees Huawei cooperate with China Mobile, Alibaba, and SAIC.

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