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Signal to success: How connectivity holds the key to making connected cars a road-safe reality

It all sounds great in principle but for all this to be achieved, high performance connectivity is fundamental.

By James Nunns

It is estimated that by 2020, there will be 250 million connected cars on the road. In just over two years, drivers everywhere will be offered a wealth of new features that will completely revolutionise the way they travel from A to B.


The opportunity

Take hazard avoidance, for example. Cars in development by General Motors, Ford and Google’s Waymo are being designed to use LiDAR (light detection and ranging)

Chuck Myers, President and CEO at Airgain

technology to create 3D virtual maps of their surroundings. The immense amount of data this will generate will be processed in real-time and assist drivers with navigating their surroundings safely, potentially avoiding obstacles both visible and invisible to the naked eye.

Then there’s real-time route planning. Companies such as HERE are making great strides with mapping technology that can provide real-time journey updates to drivers in traffic accidents, or simply alert them to congestion, temporary speed restrictions and parking opportunities. The beneficial impact this could have on both journey time and fuel consumption is significant.

Meanwhile, vehicle maintenance will allow connected cars to constantly analyse ‘wear and tear’ from usage, in order to predict when the next trip to a repair and services garage is due. There’s also assistance for accidents, where connected cars contact emergency services without prompt, following a collision or breakdown on the road.


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Connectivity is king

It all sounds great in principle but for all this to be achieved, high performance connectivity is fundamental. After all, if we are expected to entrust our lives to these cars, we need to be assured they don’t just perform to an exceptionally high standard, but are entirely seamless. Nothing less than perfect is acceptable when it comes to connectivity in tomorrow’s car.

So what does ‘perfect’ entail? The arrival of 5G, expected by 2020, is supposed to provide the bandwidth necessary to enable connected cars to use these features and more in real-time, thereby reassuring us they are ‘road-safe’. Considering how far we have come with radio frequencies in the past decade, it could be tempting to take this technology for granted, but it would be wrong to underestimate the role they will play in making real-time connectivity a reality.

However, simply having 5G bandwidth available will not wave a magic wand for the extraordinary level of connectivity performance required. The next generation of mobile networking technology will come with its own challenges. The use of radio frequencies is becoming incredibly complex, and ensuring different standards do not interfere with each other and impact on performance is already highly challenging.

The introduction of 5G means that these radio frequencies and the data they carry will become even more complicated and far more difficult to manage. Hence, to solve this challenge effectively, attention to matters like antenna design and performance will be paramount. Failure to take these matters seriously could turn these possible advantages into bottlenecks.

At Airgain, we support automotive design and engineering by providing wireless solutions that not only deal with extremely broad ranges of radio frequencies and standards effectively, but within very constrained spaces and typically very tight automotive requirements. Extremely diverse standards, such as those expected from 5G, are able to then coexist and perform to the level required in order to make connected cars roadworthy and safe.

Our commitment to the support and development of 5G in the automotive space is marked by our recent decision to join the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). This association shares our vision that for the potential of 5G to be realised in the automotive industry, collaboration and development between industries and partners is absolutely essential. Over the coming years, 5GAA will continue to work with all the market leaders to drive the standardisation of vehicle connectivity, playing a crucial role in keeping future vehicles safe when they will be on the road.

These are incredibly exciting times for the automotive industry. Drivers will finally be able to drive cars that years ago might have seemed reserved purely for science-fiction and it will be an entirely new and fresh experience. Before seatbelts are buckled, faith in these cars has to be earned. There must be no doubt that these vehicles are completely responsive, features work in real-time and the technology involved is capable of delivering crucial information at the exact moment it is needed.

A 21st century car’s network connectivity will be just as important as the fuel that powers it. Attention to detail is critical to ensure this fuel never falters or leaves anyone stranded, particularly with matters like wireless system design, the unsung hero of network connectivity.

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