How connected vehicles communicate has suddenly, unexpectedly erupted into a political issue in Europe. An argument has broken out among automakers and cellular technology suppliers disagreeing about which technology to use for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-network connectivity (or V2X, the term used to cover both).

The global automotive industry for years has had a single viable V2X system to work with: Dedicated Short-Range Communications. DSRC is based on the IEEE’s 802.11p standard. Europe has a vote scheduled just days from now to formally endorse DSRC as the preferred technology for V2X.

On Monday, April 8th, a transport committee of European Union (EU) lawmakers threw a monkey wrench in Europe’s V2X plans by rejecting the European Commission’s proposal to push for a DSRC-based V2X.

A potential alternative to DSRC would be to use cellular networks to connect vehicles. The 3GPP, the organization that defines global wireless network standards, created Cellular V2X (C-V2X) specifically for the purpose. C-V2X initially relies on LTE (4G) networks; support for 5G networks will be added later. The lobbying group that advocates for C-V2X has been gaining momentum in Europe – a region previously seen as pro-DSRC.

The EU Parliament’s transport committee is now arguing that the Commission’s push for DSRC-based V2X goes against the Commission’s own campaign to promote 5G-based activities as fuel for economic growth.

This 11th hour action by the committee took place just before the European Parliament’s planned April 17th vote on the Commission’s DSRC proposal.

Stalled V2X deployment

When technologies and regulatory actions are in sync, together they can move the earth. But when these two forces fall out of step, regulatory inaction or indecision can trigger the political mischief that stalls an initiative and delays its implementation.

V2X is a prime example.

As Hagai Zyss, CEO of the Israeli company Autotalks, once told EE Times, “It is a shame” that the debate on V2X — originally designed and developed for safety on the road — has been hijacked by the cellular communication industry and its technology suppliers [such as Qualcomm] in a political process. Powerful lobbying forces have successfully framed the issue as a DSRC vs. 5G technology choice.

“V2X should really be about adding another layer of safety measure to ADAS and autonomous vehicles. It shouldn’t matter which sensors – DSRC or 5G – is used for V2X,” Zyss stressed in a phone interview with EE Times on Monday.

He explained that anticipated benefits of V2X include: allowing a V2X-equipped car to detect danger around a corner where there is no line of sight (Day 1 V2X application); cooperative perception (Day 2 application); and coordination movement such as platooning (Day 3 application).

IEEE V2X (Source: IEEE.org)

Getting in the way of V2X deployment worldwide are two opposing forces. One group supports DSRC. The opposition advocates cellular technology for V2X.

Along the same lines, the automotive industry is already split in two. Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen are the top three manufacturers of DSRC-equipped automobiles. Daimler, Ford and PSA Group have endorsed the rival, cellular-based C-V2X.

In the United States, V2X came close to being mandated by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in late 2016 toward the end of the Obama Administration. But the DoT, believed to be leaning toward supporting DSRC, couldn’t pull the trigger in time.

Under current Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, no decision has been taken on V2X. This prolonged paralysis has led many industry observers to believe that the United States will take a “let-the-market-decide” option. While DoT indecision is likely what libertarians prefer, the option of a “de facto” standard will only leave a good idea (V2X) to languish, while V2X deployment in the United States stagnates.

Until Monday, it was widely believed that Europe would soon make a firm V2X decision, mandating the use of the DSRC-based technology. Selecting a single technology is deemed particularly important in Europe because European member states and road operators need to implement V2X services aimed at cross-border harmony and interoperability.

The fate of DSRC in Europe suddenly became far more precarious Monday. It remains to be seen how the European Parliament will eventually vote on April 17. Further, the Parliament’s vote reportedly can only be blocked by a majority. The European Council also has a say in the issue and would also need a majority of EU countries to derail the proposal.

China goes for LTE-V2X

While V2X has yet to get the votes for its mandate in the U.S. or in Europe, China has no such problem.

Autotalks, which originally supported DSRC but launched last summer the first global V2X solution supporting both DSRC and LTE-V2X (also known as C-V2X), announced last week that it has successfully completed a C-V2X field trial with an unnamed Chinese technology giant. Declining to name names, the Autotalks CEO told EE Times that China has passed the stage of “testing the water with C-V2X.” With the government’s guidance and spectrum allocation, China is on its way to start deploying LTE-V2X in 2020 or 2021, Zyss observed.

Asked why, Zyss explained, “China has huge mobility issues in central cities – in terms of traffic jam and accidents. It’s a nightmare.” V2X is seen as an effective tool to solve these congestion problems, and the government wants to deploy it sooner than later.

Qualcomm V2X (Source: Qualcomm)

Autotalks, however, isn'the only company offering the global V2X solutions. Among chip and module vendors, offering solutions that support both DSRC and C-V2X is becoming increasingly common, since different regions of the world are likely to opt for different systems.

While the upper layers of DSRC and C-V2X use the same communication protocols, the dual-mode chipset (supporting both DSRC and C-V2X) must feature two separate modems thus supporting two separate physical layers. That could be a burden for vehicle OEMs. But it could be even a bigger burden for those building V2X infrastructure. Consider traffic lights.

If a country couldn’t decide on V2X radio, every traffic light in that country must sport both cellular and DSRC radios so that every V2X vehicle could speak to the infrastructure.