Cutting through the hype of 5G’s promises

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece R. Ezhirpavai, VP of Technology at Aricent, looks at the myths around 5G use cases, including ultra-low latency – something both vendors and operators have been keen to promote. 

The 5G rollout is gathering momentum. Big names in the telco space are confidently demonstrating their nascent next-generation technology, with Qualcomm, for example, recently teasing its first 5G mobile platform, and LG and Sprint revealing plans to deliver the first 5G handset in the first half of 2019. As the number of announcements grow, so too does the level of discussion around what 5G entails.

Ultra-low latency is often heralded as a key benefit by both vendors and operators, particularly in enabling connected cars and automation technology, with scalability and cost-effectiveness regularly cited as additional advantages. Before we get too excited, however, let’s take a step back and view these claims with an objective eye, and examine the truth behind the hype.

Shiny connected cars

Much has been written about how the future of connected cars will depend on 5G connectivity. These vehicles rely on a number of applications and they all require ongoing maintenance. For example, applications to collect telemetry data, gather Software-Over-The-Air (SOTA) and Firmware-Over-The-Air (FOTA) updates. While it is possible to run these applications over existing 4G networks, 5G will be of course be more effective due to the larger capacity it offers at higher speeds.

5G millimetre wave antennae with multi-path beam forming can be embedded in car windows, for example, invisible to the naked eye, and enabling high broadband connectivity. Enabling connected cars in this way is, therefore, a clear use case for 5G.

The misconception with connected cars

The idea that ultra-low latency can be applied to all cars on the road is, however, a misconception. For one thing, 5G’s ultra-low latency works on the principle of prioritising some users over others. If all cars on the road required the same level of latency, it would be impossible to apply this principle.

Secondly, there’s currently no way of enforcing a rule that requires every car on the road to be 5G-enabled. In that instance, cars with 5G may not receive information from vehicles that do not have 5G. Then, of course, there are the many other obstacles including humans and animals that wander into and across the road and do not – and cannot – have 5G connectivity!

Thirdly 5G will, initially at least, be overlaid over existing 4G networks. It is worth remembering that this does mean one hundred percent connectivity as there are, notoriously, black spots on a number of 4G networks. It’s highly therefore unlikely that automated cars will rely entirely on a form of connectivity that may not be available in certain places. That’s a challenge the automotive industry must confront.

Robotics and the low-latency myth

The advent of Industry 4.0, or the industrial internet of things (IIoT), in which industrial manufacturing devices, equipment and computers are connected for greater efficiency, has seen an increase in the deployment of automation technology and robotics. As with connected cars, the ultra-low latency promised by 5G has been seen by many as an enabler for robots to receive and analyse data in real time, and act and react accordingly.

In the main, however, robots tend to have both processors and memory on board and, while low latency computation – the actual movement of a robotic arm, hand or digit – is important to a robot’s functionality, it is already achievable through fast broadband connectivity. This same broadband connectivity is also required for analysing data in the cloud, or for any software upgrades that might be necessary.

5G will provide the consistent, reliable broadband connectivity required for robotics. Its ultra-low latency capabilities, though, may not be as critical in this case as the hype from many vendors might want you to believe.

Virtualisation and scalability myths

Virtualisation will, of course, offer operators further flexibility and cost benefits. Despite what many vendors may claim, 5G technology is by no means ‘plug and play’. While it can be deployed on Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware, thus reducing costs, operators will still need to invest in integrating certain pieces of multivendor solutions, for a successful interoperable deployment.

Another common misconception is that, due to the high data bandwidth provided by 5G, the core network and its component functions such as Accessibility and Mobility Management (AMF), Session Management (SMF), and Policy Control (UPF), will scale up and down to a greater degree than in its 4G counterpart. While 5G core network virtualisation will certainly help operators to maintain their network, these are control plane elements, and the scaling of these components will not be affected by a higher level of data traffic, unlike with user plane functions.

5G: Are we nearly there yet?

5G is the future, and all the signs suggest that it is very nearly here. It will undoubtedly change the way that networks operate, and the way in which mobile connectivity is delivered. The opportunities it opens up for new and advanced technologies such as connected cars and automated industrial processes are certainly exciting. When it comes to anticipating its potential, however, the industry must be sure to measure what is hyperbole against what is actually real.

 

R.Ezhirpavai_PotraitPrior to joining Aricent, Ezhirpavai worked at the government aided telecommunication organization C-DoT. At Aricent, she has played a key role in development of software framework for solutions like SS7/Sigtran stacks, VoIP stacks and has contributed to IETF specs for SCTP (RFC 4960). Pavai has lad various projects and led driven product conception for clients, while working closely with engineering and business teams. As part of her previous role in Aricent Innovation team, Ezhirpavai was instrumental in enabling some of Aricent’s most successful software frameworks and solutions. Most recently, she has been involved in creating virtualized solutions and creating stateless solutions for a truly NFV based solutions at Aricent. She is also spearheading 5G solutions in Aricent.

Qualcomm claims first multi-vendor C-V2X demo in China

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm is pushing hard to be a key player in cellular communications between vehicles and the rest of the world.

The somewhat forced abbreviation for this sort of thing is C-V2X (cellular vehicle to everything) and the Qualcomm 9150 chipset is designed to enable it. In partnership with Chinese firm Datang Telecom Group Qualcomm has claimed the first demonstration of multi-chipset vendor C-V2X direct communication interoperability.

“This interoperability test conducted with Qualcomm Technologies is of great importance and is a milestone for the industry as it is the first chip level PC5 Mode 4 interoperability test, which demonstrated the maturity and readiness of commercial deployment for C-V2X technology,” said Yingmin Wang, CTO of Datang Telecom Group.

“Achieving this milestone with Datang is quite significant as it exemplifies the technology maturity to support C-V2X commercial deployments starting in 2019,” said Nakul Duggal, VP of Product Management at Qualcomm. “With our long history of wireless leadership in China, and close collaborations with the automotive and telecom industries, we look forward to continued work alongside leaders in China as we collectively advance towards the commercial reality of safer and more connected vehicles.”

This is all compatible with 3GPP Release 14 C-V2X direct communications (PC5) Mode 4, otherwise known as LTE-V2X. The demo used the Qualcomm 9150 chipset and Datang’s DMD31 LTE-V2X module, using the 5.9 GHz spectrum, which has been set aside for this sort of thing. One of the key use-cases will vehicle-to-infrastructure communication that is needed for things like automated collision avoidance and autonomous driving in general.

Waymo bags 62k minivans for self-driving service

Waymo has expanded its partnership with Fiat Chrysler agreeing to add up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to its self-driving transportation service.

The service, which Waymo plans to launch at the end of the year, will allow the public to use Waymo’s app to request a vehicle will make use of the vehicles, though there is also the potential to make the vehicle available to retail customers. The partnership itself dates back to 2016.

“Waymo’s goal from day one has been to build the world’s most experienced driver and give people access to self-driving technology that will make our roads safer,” said John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo. “We’re excited to deepen our relationship with FCA that will support the launch of our driverless service, and explore future products that support Waymo’s mission.”

“FCA is committed to bringing self-driving technology to our customers in a manner that is safe, efficient and realistic,” said Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler. “Strategic partnerships, such as the one we have with Waymo, will help to drive innovative technology to the forefront.”

The Waymo/Google vision is to ‘help people get from A to B at the push of a button’, but is also another excellent example of the company’s ability to persist with investment, keeping an eye on the long-term horizon. Just like the Maps offering and investments in artificial intelligence, there is no immediate gratification in autonomous vehicles, but the team is persisting.

Of course, for those who would not be seen dead in a minivan, the Waymo team has got you covered. Back in March Waymo announced another partnership with Jaguar Land Rover to develop a premium electric fully self-driving vehicle for the transportation service. Up to 20,000 I-PACEs will be added to the fleet, which we can only imagine is for the type of person who deems themselves too important to take the bog-standard Uber service.

Nokia, AT&T, Qualcomm and Ford have a C-V2X party

Cellular-vehicle-to-whatever is a bit of a mouthful, so Nokia, AT&T, Qualcomm and Ford decided to abbreviate it. Nice work.

To celebrate their new abbreviation, the fantastic four decided to plan a nice lot of lovely testing in San Diego, California. The goal of the trials is to demonstrate the potential of C-V2X technologies, including support for improved automotive safety, automated driving and traffic efficiency.

There seems to be a bit of a spate of trying show what a good idea connected/autonomous/extremely clever cars are. Google’s Waymo subsidiary has been making persuasive videos down the road in Phoenix, Arizona, featuring wholesome, happy families enjoying incident-free autonomous car journeys.

The reasons for all this are clear: C-V2X, autonomous driving, etc are emerging technologies that promise to disrupt not only business models but social ones too. You can’t just inflict new things on the world and then be surprised at a degree of hesitance and luddite friction. Companies have learned that you need to prime the market first.

Lots of partners means lots of canned quotes, and since Qualcomm seems to have been put in charge of the press release, that will probably mean generic, risk-averse and self-congratulatory, but let’s find out eh?

“Leveraging the evolution of embedded cellular technologies for V2X communications holds great potential to advance safety benefits to all road users,” said Cameron Coursey, VP of AT&T Internet of Things Solutions. “Working with industry leaders, such as Ford, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies, and state and local government agencies, we will together lead the way to safer, more secure, cost-effective, and efficient next-generation solutions.”

“The advancement of cellular technology for C-V2X applications is very encouraging,” said Don Butler, executive director, connected vehicle and services at Ford. “This technology promises to meet, and in some cases, exceed the performance requirements of vehicle communication being proposed by relevant government agencies while leveraging existing in-vehicle connectivity frameworks.

“C-V2X provides a reassuring path to technology advancements necessary to support emerging developments in autonomy, automated driving, and mobility. We are keen to investigate all aspects of this opportunity and support cross industry efforts that make that possible.”

“LTE and 5G technologies have the potential to dramatically transform our lives, and none more so than in transportation,” said Thorsten Robrecht, head of vertical network slices at Nokia. “Nokia has a keen interest in creating safe, efficient, and dynamic operating environments for autonomous vehicles, and we have gained much experience from our European projects over the last few years. As such, we are extremely excited to be involved in this project with AT&T, Ford, and Qualcomm Technologies, taking meaningful steps to evaluate what this technology will be able to deliver.”

“Qualcomm Technologies is working towards solutions designed for tomorrow’s safer and autonomous vehicles, not only by contributing and evolving C-V2X technology, but also by designing technological breakthroughs in other key areas such as 4G and 5G, precise positioning, machine learning, and computer vision,” said Nakul Duggal, VP, product management, automotive at Qualcomm. “We are pleased to work with industry and government leaders, in our hometown, testing and refining the technologies for the more connected, automated vehicle of tomorrow and advanced cellular infrastructure which includes small cells and roadside units.”

Told you.

Samsung revs up its autonomous driving efforts

Samsung Electronics has announced a new $300 million investment fund dedicated to the automotive industry as well as a strategic partnership with TTTech.

This move echoes a similar one from Ericsson last week and seems to be part of a broader push by technology companies to grab as big a piece as possible of the nascent smart/connected/autonomous vehicle market.

Samsung, of course, dropped $8 billion less than a year ago on Harman, which has a big in-car infotainment business. Against that $300 million is a relative drop in the ocean, but this is more of a VC play, presumably with the aim of owning future autonomous car players at a relative discount.

In fact Samsung and Harman have jointly launched (not sure how that works) a new Autonomous/ADAS strategic initiative, which seems to take the form of a new business unit. On top of that Samsung has started a strategic partnership with German company TTTech, which is apparently big in robust networking and safety controls, especially in an IoT-ish way.

“During this period of extraordinary transformation in the automotive industry, we are excited to play a leadership role in supporting and shaping the future of smarter, more connected vehicles,” said Young Sohn, President and CSO of Samsung Electronics and Chairman of Harman. “The Autonomous/ADAS strategic business unit and automotive fund reflect the company’s commitment to the values of open innovation and collaboration. In partnership with OEMs and startups, we will make the driver and passenger experience safer, more convenient, and more enjoyable.”

“There is already a high demand for ADAS solutions, and that demand is rapidly growing with the advancements in connected cars and autonomous driving,” said Dinesh Paliwal, President and CEO of Harman. “This strategic business unit demonstrates Samsung’s and Harman’s commitment to answer that call – to be the definitive partner for seamless and integrated technologies.”

The TTTech partnership is also the first investment of the new fund, which seems a needlessly circuitous way of going about things. Among TT’s other investors is Audi. “We are very proud to have Samsung as an investor and partner in TTTech to create solutions for the next generation of highly integrated and data-intensive safety systems” said Georg Kopetz, Member of the Board at TTTech. “Samsung brings a breadth and a depth of technologies as well as an ecosystem of partners to accelerate development for level 2 to level 5 autonomous platforms.”

There’s a lot of speculative cash flowing from the tech sector into automotive these days. Pretty much all the semiconductor players seem to see it as a major source of future and the networking players seem to feel the same. But the automotive sector tends to move a fair bit slower than core tech, so they will need to be patient when it comes to ROI.