Industry Voices—Blaber: Connectivity becoming a platform for automotive innovation

Geoff Blaber

MWC 2019 was full of buzz around connectivity with 5G dominating keynotes and announcements. However, an overlooked announcement came in automotive and the role that connectivity stands to play in the coming years.

On the face of it, Qualcomm’s launch of new 4G and 5G platforms for automotive are just that—vanilla modem announcements for vehicles. The reality is that this begins to take connectivity beyond a niche point solution within premium vehicles. 

The Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive 4G and 5G solutions include essential automotive features including integrated C-V2X, high-precision multifrequency global navigation satellite system, Vision Enhanced Precision Positioning (VEPP) and Dual SIM Dual Active support for the 5G platform. This is a logical step, but their role within a second generation of the connected-car reference design is more interesting.

The reference design consists of three main parts; the modem, additional hardware—including an applications processor, RF Front End, a hardware security module and Wi-Fi—and Bluetooth, on top of which comes several key enabling applications. These run on the application processor and include a full V2X stack, V2X apps, a telematics SDK, telematics apps, Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm for security and VEPP.

This is the decisive part of the solution. It makes connectivity a platform upon which automakers can begin to scale a range of connectivity options throughout their lineups and introduce new business models and services. By packaging hardware and software elements onto a single board, automotive manufacturers have access to a complete solution rather than individual elements that need to be put together to form a solution. More importantly, it’s the basis upon which automakers and third-party developers can begin to build smart and connected applications.

This sows the seeds for an ecosystem built upon a foundation of connectivity in the vehicle. Automakers and others will be able to create V2X apps that can communicate between vehicles, people and their environment. This will increase safety and efficiency on the roads, aid the development of smarter cities and facilitate new business models.

Compared to the role of connectivity in the vehicle today, this is a grand vision. Connectivity is available in a fraction of new cars and its function is limited. Indeed, parts of the industry working on autonomous vehicles are resisting connectivity or limiting it to functions distinct from mission-critical tasks. This is understandable given potential security implications, but the vehicle must develop a heightened sense of awareness—it must be able to see and sense. Cameras, radar and lidar create an all-important picture of the immediate surroundings but this sensor fusion needs to be supported by non-line of sight awareness enabled by C-V2X.

C-V2X enables a vehicle to communicate, anticipate and interpret based on what it can’t see. For example, an obstacle around a blind corner. For this, systems, maps and roadside and city infrastructure need to be able to communicate between one another. Connectivity also enables far more accurate positioning, which becomes essential to autonomous driving through technologies such as VEPP for lane-level accuracy. 

Connectivity stands to become a key feature that enhances safety, improves location and enables new business models. However, security needs to be a central element to make this feasible. The 5G platform supports multiple carrier subscriptions using Dual SIM Dual Active and functions/services are partitioned using hardware-based security and virtualization. Whilst manufacturers may opt for two modems for resilience, the same modem can be for connections from multiple carriers to provide a blend of infotainment and mission-critical drive functions.

This is a leap for much of the automotive industry and it will take time. However, the enablers are now in place and there are signs of progress with Ford stating at CES that it will deploy C-V2X in all vehicles by 2022. This is the start for connectivity in cars. Within five years, it will feel as alien not to have a range of connectivity options as it would in a smartphone. The implications for the automotive industry are no less significant than the advent of 4G was for smartphones.

Geoff Blaber is vice president of research for the Americas at CCS Insight. Based in California, Blaber heads CCS Insight’s Americas business and supports the range of clients located in this territory. Blaber's research focus spans a broad spectrum of mobility and technology, including the lead role in semiconductors. He is a well-known member of the analyst community and provides regular commentary to leading news organizations such as Reuters, the Financial Times and The Economist. You can follow him on Twitter @geoffblaber.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.