Recently, talks have been going on between Qualcomm and the FCC to allow Qualcomm’s C-V2X technology to operate on unused frequencies. What is C-V2X, how will it help the automotive industry, and why does Qualcomm require FCC approval?
The term “Smart” is often seen on many emerging products and technologies, but what does smart really mean? Generally speaking, a product is considered “smart” if it has internet capabilities whereby it can share information about itself, and then use this data to adapt to its application. For example, smart lights not only allow for remote control via the internet, but they can also be integrated into AI platforms that allow for adaptive operation (i.e. only turn lights on when individuals are in the room and the detected light level is low).
However, the ability for a product to be smart is not enough to become popular; smart technologies are becoming much cheaper. As smart technology sales increase, the technology driving them falls in price, which results in more sales. This positive feedback loop has seen the introduction of SoCs and RF solutions that can be added to the most basic products at obscenely low prices. Now that many smart products are available on the market, all with internet capabilities, the next leap will be connecting these devices to enable smart interactions between unrelated products.
Before we can understand what C-V2X is, we first need to understand what V2X is. V2X is an acronym for Vehicle To Everything and combines a range of different communication technologies between vehicles and infrastructure, other vehicles, pedestrians, the grid, and devices. Such a system allows for information to be exchanged between all these platforms to create a smart environment that can react and respond in real-time to each other. While IEEE has formalised some V2X standards, it is still a long way off, and there are many arguments as to what the underlying communication technology should be.
C-V2X is an acronym for Cellular Vehicle-To-Everything and is a technology that combines cellular networks with the Vehicle-To-Everything concept. Simply put, C-V2X takes the approach that all devices should communicate using cellular networks as cellular networks have many advantages over other technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Assuming that C-V2X is run on modern cellular networks (5G), then advantages include significantly greater range, better coverage, high speeds, low latency, and ability to roam between access points without tedious reconnection protocols. However, Qualcomm, who is a key player in C-V2X, have also stated how C-V2X should incorporate both cellular and local connection methods to allow for both network and device-to-device communications.
How can C-V2X help the automotive industry?
One of the main advantages provided by C-V2X is that it will allow all devices related to road traffic the ability to share information and work with each other. The first major advantage is the ability to pre-emptively determine collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians in real-time, thus minimising loss of life during accidents. This ability to detect potential collisions goes beyond immediate incidents; it can also be useful for forewarning vehicles of road conditions as well as vehicles that may be broken down. Pedestrians using smartphones may even be able to have their device configured to alert drivers when they cross the road, thus providing the vehicle crucial time to respond or even applying emergency breaks.
The second advantage to a connected system is the ability to control traffic intelligently whereby traffic lights can better determine when to change, and how much traffic to let through. This also has the added advantage of providing city and road planners with data on how traffic behaves, thus allowing for better future road layout. Traffic can also be improved with the use of group technologies such as Platooning, whereby cars can communicate with each other to minimise space between vehicles as well as co-ordinate lane efficiency.
The third advantage of a connected system is the ability to improve autonomous driving systems. One of the biggest challenges faced in autonomous driving is the need to determine where nearby vehicles are. Currently, this is done using a range of active technologies, including cameras, LiDAR, and RADAR. While these would still be needed in a C-V2X world, the ability to detect nearby vehicles would be more trivial and thus improve the safety and performance of such systems.
Recently, Qualcomm has been in talks with the Federal Communication Commission to define which frequencies Qualcomm can use in their future C-V2X technology solutions. While information has come out that suggests the two are agreeing, the exact frequencies which Qualcomm will operate on have not yet been defined. Qualcomm is requesting the use of the 5.9GHz spectrum, but the FCC is concerned that using the 5.9GHz spectrum will cause interference with Wi-Fi U-NII-4, which operates on frequencies between 5.850GHz and 5.925GHz. One decision that the FCC may come to is to limit the maximum frequency of Wi-Fi U-NII-4 to 5.895GHz, and from there C-V2X would exclusively use 5.9GHz. Qualcomm continue to insist that their devices will not interfere with Wi-Fi, and already have designs completed and product produced, all simply awaiting FCC approval.
While it may seem tedious, Qualcomm requires FCC approval not just for legal reasons, but to ensure that their new wireless technology does not interfere with systems already put in place. This is not only advantageous for owners of equipment using the frequencies that Qualcomm want to use, but it’s also advantageous to Qualcomm as devices operating on 5GHz Wi-Fi may also be able to interfere with Qualcomm devices. However, it should also be noted that opening the 5.9GHz spectrum to C-V2X could provide massive benefits to road safety, and potentially save many hundreds, if not thousands of lives.