Will Connected Cars Stall in the UK?

By | March 7, 2017

There can be no doubt that car connectivity is exercising engineering and business brains – and not just in the automotive sectors.

It is difficult to reckon but the public and private investments of major players are indicative of very large and serious strategic choices.  Yesterday’s announcement of collaboration between 5GAA and EATA not only brings together around 70 serious players in automotive and telecoms but also signals a massive vote for pan-European and global collaboration.

That spirit of collaboration runs very deep. The demands of autonomous vehicles are not going to be met by simple plug-ins of existing system components. ‘Vehicle-to-whatever’ (V2X) connectivity demands fresh approaches that will test and disrupt established forces and, as Canute demonstrated, the incoming tide cannot be denied.  As ever-higher frequencies are deployed across millions of smaller cells the backhaul performance will be critical – but, collaboratively, can be managed with ‘network slicing’ of gigabit connections notionally owned by other customers – a sort of Mobile AirB&B full fibre infrastructure.

The ranks of collaborating partners includes Telcoms leaders Deutsche Telekom, KPN, Telefonica, Telenor, Nokia,  Ericsson  and Vodafone as well as all the major car brands, the trade bodies ETNO, ECTA, GSMA  and the European Commission.  Perhaps it is as well that BT and Ofcom are not directly involved in either 5GAA or EATA – they do not need to be distracted from more fundamental issues like replacing the creaking copper threads on which the UK economy hangs.

From all that intellectual investment, the complex ecosystem that is emerging will be particularly testing for the UK’s digital infrastructure.  As long as the country remains largely bereft of full fibre, the mobile systems that will support V2X will lack both sufficient coverage and capacity.

The 5G naysayers are already out in force. How many times have we heard the reluctant bleat ‘who needs all that connectivity?’ How often have we been reassured that we can ‘get by’ with a few tweaks? How far must cul-de-sacs be extended before admitting they are dead ends? Sticking plaster economics provides no cure.

Infrastructure investment is a long-term business. It takes time to prove its value. Only now is the country faced with the extra default costs of not making those investments. Connected Car aspirations are being driven forward – but they may well stall here in the UK.

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UPDATE 16/03/2017 – initiative in Hong Kong