Wireless engineers, automakers, and governments have spent years preparing for a future where autonomous cars will communicate with each other and transportation networks — an initiative known as “cellular vehicle to everything,” commonly abbreviated C-V2X. Today, the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) offered a roadmap for mass deployments of automotive communications technologies, and its timeline includes several interesting dates that aren’t as far off as some people might have guessed.
Based on the current pace of cellular industry standards organization 3GPP’s 5G releases, global 5G deployments, and the state of the automotive communications supply chain, the 5GAA expects three C-V2X stages over the next decade. From 2020 through 2023, automakers will rely on 4G LTE-V2X technology to enable basic safety features, such as left turn assistance and emergency electronic brake light features to improve traffic efficiency. They’ll augment basic local hazard and traffic information that’s already being shared over cellular networks.
Then there will be two 5G stages, identified as “step one” and “step two.” Starting in 2024, the 5GAA predicts a “large-scale introduction” of 5G-enabled automated driving technologies that rely on communications between vehicles and infrastructure. For example, 5G-V2X will be used to automatically park vehicles in parking garages — a car-to-private infrastructure use case Bosch is already testing in German and U.S. locations — followed by “more complex environments and scenarios” including public roads. Tele-operated driving will also be possible.
Step two will start in 2026, when 5GAA expects all new autonomous vehicles will include 5G-V2X, kicking off an age where cars cooperate with one another by sharing high-definition sensor data. Some of C-V2X’s most widely anticipated autonomous functionality, such as cars being able to share their upcoming intentions with each other and the network, as well as combining video and/or depth information for real time cooperative perception, will be in pilot test stages at this point. Urban and highway pilot programs for dynamic intersection management and cooperative traffic flows could take until 2029.
5GAA expects that the 3GPP will continue to evolve the 5G standard from current Release 16 through 2023’s Release 18, enhancing industry support and specifications for 5G-V2X as carriers continue building out their 5G infrastructures. As nice as it would be if autonomous vehicles could just start relying on 5G today, the reality is that 5G networks aren’t yet built out enough to independently support reliable vehicular communications around the world, and there are technological and legal practicalities to consider, as well.
Allocating wireless spectrum to vehicles will be critical to 5G-V2X deployments, the 5GAA notes, ideally harmonized internationally at 5.9GHz, as well as low band spectrum for use in rural driving, and mid band spectrum in urban environments. The group expects basic safety to require 10 to 20MHz of spectrum for direct 4G communications, plus 40MHz or more for advanced 5G driving.
On positives note, multiple countries (including China and the United States) are already in the process of allocating 5.9GHz spectrum to 5G automotive communications, and the 5GAA’s industry-leading members are already on board. But despite the seemingly plausible dates in the 5GAA’s roadmap, the organization notes that these rollouts will depend on new regulatory frameworks and investments in digital twins of both roads and cars — steps that could easily take longer than expected, even in relatively progressive countries.