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Cars are now moving in the same direction as smartphones in terms of computing power and connectivity. As the automotive industry aims for a fully autonomous driving experience, the end goal is a vehicle that can operate safely and independently of any human control. Powered by the latest technologies, detection, interpretation, and decision-making are crucial to be delivered before, during, and even after driving. 

As they call it the ACES trend, autonomous vehicles, connected cars, electrification, and shared mobility represent a new wave of automotive innovation that connects an automobile with the environment in new, more efficient, and effective ways. This lucrative opportunity attracts a wide range of players to the industry, involving telecom operators. The challenge would be creating stable ecosystems that can enable AVs/EVs to ride the current technological wave, as the industry’s old ways start to fade.

It is worthy to note that the global self-driving cars market size is projected to grow from 20.3 million units in 2021 to 62.4 million units by 2030, with more than 50% of vehicles produced by 2024 to have some level of autonomous features, and vehicle manufacturers are ramping production in electric vehicles with extensive vehicle-to-everything (V2X) capabilities. Moreover, one in four cars will have 5G connectivity by 2025 that will make better use of real-time data transfer and fast cloud-car communication, with 5G-powered cars expected to be a quarter of connected cars in the same period.

Today’s in-vehicle services are just the beginning, with the increased focus on customer experience pushing automotive manufacturers to develop new capabilities for upcoming models that will fundamentally change the automotive industry.

The end of 3G

Telcos are conducting the 3G sunsets to free up infrastructure and capital to support newer 5G cellular bands. AT&T is the first major provider to wind down its 3G services to be followed by T-Mobile and Verizon later in 2022.

The shutdowns – known as network sunsets – are expected to impact millions of vehicles, ranging from older models until as late as 2021, that use 3G networks for in-car emergency and convenience systems such as crash notification, concierge, connected traffic and navigation, remote unlocking and start, and data for Wi-Fi hot spots, among others.

Vehicle owners should be aware that unlike smartphones, which get refreshed technology on product cycles as short as a year, cars have much longer product cycles. This is the reason why years can pass by until a car's technology is developed, certified for use, and installed in a vehicle. With the dawn of the 3G sunset, it is critical to install any updates before the 3G networks shut down completely.

You’ll either need to visit your car dealer to install updated hardware or apply a software patch to allow the use of newer technology in streaming data. Some automakers, like Audi, Toyota, and Lexus, are not offering any path to continue receiving connected services relying on 3G.

As explained by an engineer, the 3G sunset has finally come as carriers start to deliberately deploy 5G systems. To illustrate, 3G handsets and base stations operate on a wideband system (using the whole cellular spectrum) while 4G/LTE and 5G operate on narrowband or multi-carrier systems (network slicing). Thus, these systems need completely different sets of hardware to function, with significant costs.

Telecom in the ACES era

Vehicles in the modern world are intended to feel safer and more comfortable on the road by being equipped with advanced connectivity, automation, and new drive solutions. The ACES trend is being revolutionized globally, involving automakers, telcos as well as software developers and technology companies.

In fact, industry players are accelerating the speed of automotive technology innovation as they develop new ACES concepts and attract more than $400 billion in investments over the last decade.

Autonomous vehicles. As automotive manufacturers across the globe begin to improve upon their autonomous capabilities, it is imperative to assess the human aspects of driving at all levels. Following this, safety and connected mobility will be at the core. The UAE is among the first in the Arab world to implement cutting-edge technical infrastructure and test self-driving vehicles on the roads.

Connected cars. By 2027, the market for connected cars is predicted to be worth over $215 billion. With the demand for greater connectivity set to soar, 5G-enabled connected cars will become the new norm and will rely on three pillars: infotainment, telematics, and infrastructure. This would enhance lives with richer services including advanced 3D navigation and always-on mobile Wi-Fi.

Electrification. This will play an important role in the transformation of the mobility industry. A 100% electric vehicle (EV) will result in high efficiency and zero emissions of pollutants that will result in overall carbon footprint reduction. It also covers intelligent light systems, smart electromagnetic suspensions, all-wheel drives, and airbag deployments, among other functionalities.

Shared mobility. The shared mobility market now exceeds $60 billion in value across China, Europe, and the US. In 2030, its annual growth rate is anticipated to increase by 20% as self-driving taxis, shuttles become more mainstream, and urban air mobility transport becomes more accessible and affordable. This will bring lucrative opportunities and better consumer preferences.

Significant investments in network infrastructure, data-management platforms, and edge-computing power is necessary to deliver this evolution. Telecom operators have a role to play to build networks with wide coverage and low energy requirements that can cater to the connectivity requirements needed by future cars.

Network-based communication allows cars to use the cellular network to communicate with nearby vehicles (V2V), pedestrians (V2P), and the infrastructure (V2I) around them. Commercially licensed spectrum with access to cloud-based services and additional security can be offered by mobile networks. In parallel with this, direct communication uses the intelligent transportation systems (ITS) 5.9 gigahertz spectrum band dedicated for short-range communications. Cellular networks in direct communication are particularly more relevant in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) systems. An example is rebroadcasting a vehicle’s report of hazards, such as road work, traffic accidents, or road blockage.

Moreover, telecom-equipment manufacturers can have an opportunity to sell directly to new potential customers, including automotive OEMs and road maintenance players. With ACES as essential use cases, they can offer customers tailored systems and solutions spanning the entire technology stack, including network access, connectivity devices, data management, and applications.

It is only through car connectivity that the potential of autonomous, electrification, and shared mobility trends can be completely realized, and automakers know this. Thus, a lot of partnerships are now happening between car manufacturers and telcos to achieve higher service quality, increased predictability, lower latency, and greater bandwidth.

5G vision in cars

Regardless of the type of communication, ubiquitous connectivity, powered by 5G, is the key to facilitating automation and autonomy among cars on the road. This can be coupled with technologies that can be used for both direct and network-based communications such as satellites, DSRC, and 802.11p.

As already known by many, 5G can significantly reduce latency (at ten milliseconds end-to-end a device and one millisecond over the air) and increase reliability (targeting 99.9%) compared with current technologies. In the automotive industry, this can enable new use cases such as trajectory sharing, real-time local updates, and coordinated driving.

Initially, 5G will be used for HD media streaming and advanced connected services capabilities in vehicles and ushers progress in edge computing, V2V coordinated driving, automated lane change, automated lane merge, and teleoperated driving use cases. 5G’s uplink data rate, which is data moving from the vehicle to the cloud, compared to 4G, significantly increases the sustainable bandwidth needed to transmit massive volumes of data.

The data collection process at the initial stage which is the main source of data for autonomous cars is already time-consuming and expensive. The car creates and maintains data based on sensors and cameras placed in different areas in and around it, and makes use of light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to measure distances, weather conditions, detect curbs and road shoulders, and identify lane markings.

This sophisticated system of network-based structures that pull information from outside the car needs 5G to efficiently work as an autonomous car must gain and analyze as much driving data as possible. 5G infrastructure can respond to the key challenge of gathering the data to train the vehicle to navigate the road with the highest degree of reliability.

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