TU-Automotive’s connected car conference brought together some major players and highlighted some key trends and concerns as car makers and suppliers battle with this whole new world. Ericsson‘s Juergen Daunis, sales director of automotive, shone some light on future of networking. Here he talks to Cat Dow about the move to 5G and beyond.  

just-auto: 5G is coming, but what is 5G? And why five? Where did 1 go?!

Juergen Daunis: First generation networks came about in the 1960s and ’70s. We then had 2G in the late 1970s and ’80s, 3G around in the 1990s and turn of the century and more recently 4G, or LTE. Unlike previous decades, 4G and 5G isn’t as hard cut as previous generations, that is to say 4G has provided a foundation on which 5G can build on. A lot of people consider a high capacity internet speed as the goal of 5G. I think that’s only one aspect. This is a tipping point. 5G will enable further communication as we see the biggest growth in machine-to-machine (M2M) and sensors.

j-a: If reliability of the future networks is key to delivering the objectives of the connected car, can 5G truly be delivered in as little as three years?

JD: So the commercial roll out will start in 2020. You’ll have pre-commercial roll out and test fields earlier than that. Reliability is an important aspect for 5G but also latency is quite important for this industry. We need to be aware that, with the air interface, the quality of the service can be given on a statistic level but it’s not a guarantee. Unlike a cable, there can be congestion or other aspects that slows the service. The guarantee will be better, but only on a statistical level. They’ll need to think about methods to ensure the feature functionality safety as well, probably with other means on top of a pure network. It will be much better in the future than it is today. 

j-a: Some manufacturers already have advanced LTE capabilities. We in the UK can’t take advantage of the fact Audi‘s modem can process up to 300Mb download speeds. We barely see 30 meg! What steps are required to get a nation, like the UK, on the right track?

JD: High capacity internet speed is only one aspect of 5G development. If you go to high capacity, it has an impact on the antenna technology and on the frequency that also goes higher. Of course, your range is smaller and that is against the usage patterns. You also have to consider the kind of content you consume in a car. Do you want high bandwidth? I think the antenna and bandwidth are overrated in terms of significance. Of course, there is some relevance but it’s not the priority. 

j-a: So what is the priority?

JD: Even more critical is the coverage across countries, then you need to go to lower frequencies, like the 800MHz bandwidth, LTE and so on. I think there are two issues: 1) better coverage from a regional perspective and 2) high bandwidth. For most of the OEM use cases, geographical coverage is much more important than the ultra-high 15GB bandwidth approach. The focus needs to be on the quality of service regionally, carrier aggregation and multi-path. You want to achieve better coverage and one way to do that is with the multi-aggregation of different carriers so you can run all the carriers in parallel and get the best network. This is at odds with cost-saving; you don’t want to have multiple SIMs in a transmission control unit (TCU). This impacts the price of the TCU. We need to find a balance. 

j-a: What technologies are you developing to cope with the heavier reliance on the cloud connectivity? e.g. voice control with the natural syntax libraries sitting in the cloud, rather than on-board.

JD: The kind of activity you describe is not usually the big connectivity cost drivers. If you do voice-over-data connection, the volume of the voice is quite limited. It’s a low-band application that’s probably time-critical but not that demanding of connectivity volumes, when compared with HD video or map updates. These are much bigger in terms of connectivity requirements. The Connected Vehicle Cloud (CVC) is our backend telematics platform. We use this to provide these kinds of services to the OEM. We combine different content sources in our connected vehicle cloud and then we deliver an aggregation of all that content in a bit of a mash up. In the example you gave, if there’s an inter-active voice response (IVR) asking about destination, we can process this offline at the backend, then add other content and give a response or more guidance.

j-a: What are the biggest hurdles in the networking field?

JD: Coverage. For automotive it is still the biggest hurdle. From a population point-of-view, most countries have reached coverage of 95-98% population, but from a geographical standpoint we have only 40% or so for automotive. If you drive to rural areas coverage is the main problem. I’ve personally given up using some of the services in Germany on the autobahn because the coverage does not give me a consistent service. Internet radio, for example. Why? It’s because the networks are built for consumers, not the automotive sector. That’s the fundamental problem. The carrier is simply making business decisions. You put your investment where you have the majority of your customers. Automotive was never intended to require the network. Then we, as an industry, have used – or perhaps misused – those networks and then we complain about the bad coverage! 

j-a: So how can this improve?

JD: For the first time, we have as an industry the opportunity to fix that because in the future, demand will come from M2M and the internet of things (IoT). That gives the carriers the commercial motivation to build a network specifically for the industry requirements, for 5G. That’s the big chance we have. So we try to moderate and influence the industry to arrive at a common vision through the 5GAA consortium. Then we can drive the standardisation into the product and into the commercial roll out of the carrier. It’s a unique chance. 

j-a: What took so long for Vodafone to come on board?

JD: It wasn’t like that. The intention was to found this consortium between starting OEMs. We brought the three German OEMs on board, then added telco suppliers, then the chip suppliers. We didn’t want any carriers involved initially because there are so many in the world. If you add one, then all the others would complain. So now it’s open and anyone can apply. We needed a small group initially to get this to market quickly, but now we can onboard Vodafone, Deutsch Telekom, etc. Eski Telefon and 40 other companies are very interested to join as well.

j-a: What trend are you most excited by?

JD: In terms of the connected car, I think the industry is going through a massive transformation at the moment. All the things that are happening – the connected vehicle, the mobility services instead of buying or selling, digitalisation, the social change – there’s so much. They are threats for the existing OEMs but all of these megatrends are completely reliant on the connected vehicle. At Ericsson we are at the centre of this transformation, helping to deliver the enabling technology that makes this happen. We really are at the heart of the societal and big industry transformation and it’s very exciting to be part of it.