4 November 2019

Volkswagen Golf supports Car2X via ITS-G5, but the EU member states are still divided on which C-ITS standard to use: how to move forward?

Volkswagen launched the new Golf 8 on 24 October. This new Golf model is the first Volkswagen to connect to its online environment ‘We Connect’ using an online connectivity unit (OCU) known as the Car2X system. The car display can communicate messages and information regarding traffic infrastructure, such as traffic lights and notifications on other vehicles from a distance of up to 800 metres away, to the driver. This development is relevant as on the 4th July, the majority of European member states voted against the Delegated Act on Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS). By voting against this Act, they rejected the European Commission’s proposal for the implementation of direct communication between vehicles using primarily ITS-G5 as the default method. According to the European member states, the choice for this existing technology which is based on WiFi, has come too early and they want more time to consider alternatives based on the upcoming 5G network rollout. There are still disagreements between automotive and technology industries as to which technology is safer, more reliable and better future-proofed. Because of this, no standard has been adopted yet, which divides the market and causes uncertainty with regards to choosing the right technology. What has been the cause of this and how to move forward?

In July, 21 of the 28 member states voted against the proposal of the European Commission, including Germany, France, and Italy – all countries with a substantial automotive industry. This was considered a ‘win’ for the telecom players like Qualcomm, Deutsche Telecom, Ericsson, Huawei, and Samsung, who are marketing for 5G technology which is backed by automotive parties such as BMW, Daimler, Ford, and the PSA Group. The European Commission has previously expressed its preference for the existing WiFi-11p standard as the go-to choice for enabling two-way communication between cars, which is supported by VW, Renault, Toyota, NXP, Dynniq and other parties. The main reason for this is because this technology is readily available and can be quickly introduced to help improve safety on European roads today. In April, the European Parliament indicated its support for this proposal but the member states are holding on to the opinion that more time is needed to research an alternative technology, such as 5G.

ITS-G5 versus 5G?

Since the start of this century, technology and automotive industries have worked hard on the standardisation and implementation of Direct Short Range Communication (DSRC) based on WiFi-11p technology, also known as ITS-G5. Its purpose is to have cars communicate with each other (vehicle-to-vehicle, V2V) and with the traffic infrastructure (vehicle-to-infrastructure, V2I). This direct form of communication uses a free-to-use frequency band that is reserved for ITS services and does not require transmission masts or telecom providers. The applications that use and provide services via ITS-G5 focus mainly on road user safety, such as warnings about sudden braking, stationary cars and dynamic roadworks. According to the European Commission, WiFi-11p technology is immediately available and is already contributing to road safety.

The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), on the other hand, has proposed an alternative short-distance protocol named LTE-V2X or PC-5, which is still under development and is expected to coincide with the rollout of 5G networks. The final release is planned for late 2021. PC-5 focuses on direct communication and works without interference from the (provider-bound) cellular 5G network. A cellular 5G network requires additional transmission masts and this, in turn, requires a significant investment from the telecom industry. LTE-V2X and the cellular 5G network are often placed under the same header 5G, and this complicates the discussion.

The differences

The result is an often heated debate about the technical differences between ITS-G5 and LTE-V2X/PC-5. On the one hand, the technical opportunities that both technologies provide differ very little; enabling the provision of in-vehicle services. The main differences are more of an organisational and commercial nature. What infrastructure support do they need? Who determines access to the ether? Who will supply the chips and equipment? Who will be paying for the equipment and services?

The proponents of 5G state that it offers a wide array of opportunities in the area of entertainment and traffic data. These internet-based opportunities and applications are not disputed. Nevertheless, 5G is still under development and has not yet been rolled out. 4G is already very fast and widely available, and it offers enough options for many Smart Mobility applications that will improve safety, efficiency, and emissions. In order to meet these requirements and specifications, there is no need to wait for 5G.

The best short-range solution

In fact, this debate does not focus on 5G versus ITS-G5, but on the short-range variants LTE-V2X and ITS-G5, with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication as the goal. ITS-G5 has already been extensively tested, even in hybrid operation together with 4G cellular networks. Dynniq has recently tested this hybrid operation internationally in Intercor (Belgium), one of our European collaboration projects. The On-Board Units of various suppliers demonstrated that they work well in different scenarios with ITS-G5 Roadside Units and also with mobile internet (4G) and the Dynniq cloud, meaning our platform is communication agnostic. Less information is available about the operation of LTE-V2X because very few systems are made available for testing. However, the current specifications show that much attention must be given to a scalable operation that does not rely solely on expensive transmission masts being in place.

The communication layer LTE-V2X uses can replace the ITS-G5 communication layer. This will not affect the other C-ITS standards, such as message content and security. This means the model remains the same and will operate in the same manner but with a different communication layer. However this is not a major problem as long as everyone uses the same technology. The difficulty arises from the fact that no clear choices have been made regarding opting for either technology, which is causing delays. Another factor is the question of who will be responsible and pay for the Smart Mobility infrastructure: the Government (with ITS-G5) or the telecom industry (in case of 5G). By seeing 5G and LTE-V2X as one system, the road user will ultimately pay for it.

How to move forward?

The discussion at European level is not yet finished so this means that in the meantime several questions remain unanswered. The LTE-V2X communication layer still needs to be validated. Now that Volkswagen has brought the Golf equipped with an ITS-G5 Car2X system, this seems to be the de-facto standard. So will this result in the roll-out of RoadSide Units with ITS-G5 in the European traffic infrastructure?

Secondly, will the two short-range technologies exist side by side, or will the automotive industry or the European Community choose a common standard? If both standards exist side by side, the Road Side Units and On-Board Units will need a dual set of radio chips. It goes without saying that this will require greater investment. And how do the different countries plan to divide the necessary 5.9GHz spectrum? Will it be used for LTE-V2X or LTE-G5? LTE-V2X and ITS-G5 cannot exist side by side at the same location within the same frequency band. Could LTE-V2X be used on another frequency so that both technologies can exist side by side? European Governments may take different decisions, and that will lead to international incompatibilities.

The opinion of Dynniq

Our Smart Mobility applications operate via cellular communication, short-range communication, or both (hybrid). For DSRC, we deliver Roadside Units and On-Board Units based on ITS-G5 technology and since the introduction of this DSRC standard, we have taken an active role in European research and roll-out projects for V2X communication. Dynniq also participates actively in the 5G Drive consortium. Here we are researching LTE-V2X further to see whether it works adequately in scaled-up use cases and how it can be implemented in the existing situation. Furthermore, we are studying the interference when both technologies are active simultaneously. Thanks to our research activities, we can expand the communication layer and the reliable use cases will also be able to function for LTE-V2X vehicles.

Apart from DSRC, we are also focusing on Smart Mobility applications that operate via the cellular internet. With the immense popularity of smartphone apps and onboard computers with mobile internet access (4G), considerable resources will not be required in order to provide many people with information that can contribute to more efficient, safer, and environmentally friendlier transportation. The future roll-out of 5G internet will add more new opportunities for autonomous vehicles. Our research, which we are conducting in part for the European 5G Heart project, has been aligned to this.

To avoid Smart Mobility developments grinding to a halt, the industry needs to make its own choice. The automotive industry now has the freedom to choose the most suitable technology. For DSRC, we still prefer ITS-G5 technology because it has proven its efficiency and safety and in addition, immediately available as we can see in the new Volkswagen Golf. By implementing this technology in vehicles, safety on European roads can be increased in the short-term. Waiting for LTE-V2X to become available will not result in additional applications.