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Why Europe just boosted 5G over Wi-Fi for connected cars

Depending on your perspective, the future of transport was just getting much clearer or a little more complicated, as EU member states yesterday rejected (via Reuters) an attempt to mandate Wi-Fi by default for future car-to-car communications . 21 EU countries voted against a European Commission plan that would have closed 5G car connections for short-range Wi-Fi, a decision that opens the door to 5G-connected cars in Europe, but does not exclude Wi-Fi from being used.

If you're a little confused about what it means, you're not alone. The automotive industry has been split for years to use Wi-Fi or 5G in connected cars, with General Motors, NXP, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo on Wi-Fi, while BMW, Daimler, Ford, Huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, and Samsung have supported 5G. Their debate lasted long enough for the main argument in favor of Wi-Fi ̵

1; as it was ready to deploy in 2016 while 5G was not – has been met by both international launches of several 5G networks and actual release delays of connected cars.

Whether Wi-Fi or 5G is used, the basic concept of vehicle for all communications (also known as V2X) is the same: Cars will be able to transmit data to other cars and local infrastructure (roads, traffic lights and operating systems) to coordinate for security and ultimately full autonomy. The entire communication takes place in real time, enabling a subsequent car to automatically brake or change lanes due to a change in cars or roads ahead, giving new levels of safety to the next generation of vehicles. The question here is which wireless standard vehicles and infrastructure should be used to send signals.

As Bloomberg notes, European companies have recently become worried about investing in "soon outdated" Wi-Fi technology considering that 5G, which provides superior performance. The specific Wi-Fi standard for vehicles, 802.11p, uses a 5.9 GHz low-bandwidth radio channel to transmit data at 3-27 Mbps over a distance of 150 meters to 1 kilometer between moving vehicles up to 260 kilometers per hour – not just cars, but trains. Due to practical factors, Wi-Fi's actual transmission distance and data bandwidth are likely to be on the low to intermediate portions of these areas.

By way of comparison, cellular V2X (also known as C-V2X) can use the same 5.9GHz radio channel as 802.11p, but also offers both low bandwidth and higher bandwidth data transfer rates while promising superior range, reliability and latency . Qualcomm says the 5G C-V2X will support lossless data transfers between vehicles running up to 500 kilometers per hour, even at distances over 450 meters, and take advantage of several 5G towers, which Wi-Fi has not and not will have no separate investments. In addition, Qualcomm suggests that a number of future improvements are still planned for the 5G C-V2X standard that 802.11p has no way forward from where it is today.

All these benefits – and many others, including support from topcellular chip developers – made 5G a clear choice for most French, German and Italian automakers, as well as Britain's Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls-Royce and China's SAIC Motor. In April, EU legislators had previously chosen to reverse only Wi-Fi and noted that it is already available to roll out, but EU ministers are now expected to meet next Monday to formally allow both standards to compete.

Although it may sound like a neutrality position on the Wi-Fi / 5G debate, it is actually a de facto gain for 5G, which is likely to quickly get the infrastructure needed throughout Europe because of the adoption of many mobile companies. Towers with 5G radios are already in several EU countries, including Italy, Germany and Spain, and vehicles with C-V2X are likely to follow the next few years. Commercial 5G vehicle services, such as Waymo-autonomous riders are already under development.

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