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The European Parliament have voted for the standard connectivity in cars to be Wi-Fi based rather than with 5G. This could have huge implications on the future of technology in cars.

The EU Executive want to set an industry standard for the ways that cars and other vehicles communicate with each other and with infrastructure to ensure that all manufacturers and suppliers are working to the same specifications for the united use of these systems. They have voted 304 against 207 in favour of Wi-Fi connectivity, as opposed to a 5G network.

The push for a Wi-Fi-based standard has been backed by the European Commission and manufacturers including Volkswagen, Renault and Toyota, all of which have been using Wi-Fi devices in their cars for a while. This technology is generally used to communicate with other cars which are close by.

“Easy to Implement and Cheap”

Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport

The Intelligent Transport System Generation 5 (ITS-G5) uses Wi-Fi for wireless short-range communications, which, for example, may inform the receiving car of sudden breaking of a car further ahead in traffic. The implementation of Wi-Fi features into cars would be much cheaper than using 5G and could be rolled out immediately as the infrastructure is already in place. Manufacturers have been testing Wi-Fi technologies for 12 years, so this is a proven technology. Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, insists that Wi-Fi is “easy to implement and cheap”.

Volkswagen cars communicating about pedestrian hazard using Wi-Fi. Concept art by VW. SeaBro IT
The car at the crossing warns the approaching vehicle of the pedestrian using Wi-Fi. Image: Volkswagen

The image above is a concept illustrating how Volkswagen’s cars would communicate over a Wi-Fi-based network. The car at the top of the image alerts the approaching car that there is a pedestrian crossing who may be a hazard to the vehicle as it turns the corner. These simple safety improvements are the main aim for the European Executive to implement these measures.

In contrast, the use of 5G could provide a much broader range of functions. C-V2X would make use of a 5G connection to communicate with not only other vehicles, but also connected infrastructure installations such as traffic lights or pedestrian’s mobile phones. The main drawback for 5G as a standard for road users is the time it will take before it is widely available. Unlike Wi-Fi, 5G is still in its infancy and it will take a long time before the coverage is enough to be able to justify all new cars being installed with this technology.

Cars communicating with 5G C-V2X, cellular vehicle to everything. Audi Connect concept. SeaBro IT
This illustration from Audi shows the different ways cars could connect with 5G C-V2X. Image: Audi AG

This illustration from Audi shows the different ways in which 5G C-V2X could be used. The blue rings represent Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) communication, the red shows Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) contact. The green rings are a representation of the wider 5G network with which the car is communicating.

5G would reduce the latency, the time taken for a response, to almost zero which would result in a safer system as action would be taken sooner than if the connection was via a Wi-Fi connection. This system is also future-proof, as the technology will still be developed and improved long into the future, whereas Wi-Fi is reaching its plateau.

Joachim Goethel at 5GAA conference. SeaBro IT
Dr Joachim Göthel at 5GAA conference in Paris last July. Image: 5GAA

The 5G Automotive Association is an organisation of over 110 companies who have a mission to “bridge the automotive and telecommunications industries” in order to “address society’s connected mobile and transport safety needs”. The video below explains the many ways that 5G connectivity could improve safety for cars. Dr Joachim Göthel (pictured) is the Senior Manager of the 5G alliance at BMW and a leading member of the 5GAA. BMW Group was one of the 8 founding members of this group, as was Audi AG.

Audi have been at the forefront of automotive connectivity, releasing the first car with a Wi-Fi hotspot in 2014. This works by inserting a compatible sim card which connects to the 4G network and emits localised Wi-Fi for passengers in the car. They have also been involved in the innovation of 5G C-V2X technologies with the introduction of time-to-green. The car communicates with traffic signals ahead using the 5G network and informs the driver how long it will be until the lights change to green. This also applies to other road featured, such as speed limits. However, the technology needs to be implemented into the infrastructure before it is useful widely, though the 5GAA claim that 20 Million cars already have the ability to use some C-V2X applications.

Audi "Time-to-Green" in Audi virtual cockpit informs the driver of how long before the traffic lights change. SeaBro IT
Audi’s “Time-to-Green” in the virtual cockpit informs the driver of how long it will be until the traffic lights change. Image: Audi AG

The European Executive are looking to improve safety in vehicles. Research shows that a driver who is not paying full attention is the leading cause of traffic accidents. The implementation of this link between vehicles will be able to warn drivers of potential hazards, caused by either the driver of the receiver car or another road user.

Internet connections in vehicles is not new. Wi-Fi hotspots have become more common in cars and public transport recently, either through an occupant’s phone’s data connection, or through a dedicated sim card inserted into the car. This technology is more about the interconnectivity of different road users though, and not about internet access for passengers.

Other uses of vehicular connectivity are displayed with Volkswagen’s range of mobile applications which display information about the status of the car. The My Volkswagen app provides information on the car and allows owners to book service appointments. The Volkswagen connect app provides statistics on the performance of the car, remembers where you parked and tells you when the next service is due. What’s more, the technology is installed through a DataPlug which connects to the diagnostic output of the car, so can be retrospectively fitted to most models built since 2008.

Images of the My Volkswagen app. Lady in VW concept car using potential future touch screen in car. SeaBro IT
Left: Using the My Voklswagen mobile app. Right: Concept of a future car with large touch screen. Images: Volkswagen

This is not yet completely finalised, and the standards will need to be agreed before manufacturers start to implement these technologies as standard. It’s almost certain though that whichever way the European Executive decide, there will be those in the vehicle and communications industries who are opposed to the decision and will continue to develop their own alternatives.

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Written by
Fraser S
in News. Staff Articles.

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