In close cooperation with the automotive sector, telecom operators are experimenting with technologies that will be essential for the proper functioning of autonomous vehicles.

Without connectivity, no autonomous vehicle . While manufacturers and specialized companies prepare their driverless vehicles, they have included in their R & D essential partners: telecom operators. They work on their side to deploy the 5G , but also participate in experiments of this new generation of mobile network centered on the autonomous vehicle. This is the case, among others, of Orange Business Services in France (OBS), Deutsche Telekom in Germany, or SK Telecom in South Korea. The autonomous vehicle indeed shows connectivity needs higher than connected cars that can not be guaranteed by the 4G and LTE networks. In particular, extremely low latency (of the order of a millisecond) and large amounts of data to be transmitted or downloaded quickly.

For example to ensure extended perception. This principle allows autonomous vehicles to “see” what is happening on the road beyond the 250 meter range of their sensors, by communicating with other vehicles on the road, a smart city control center, or connected infrastructure (lights, roundabouts, crossroads …) thanks to technologies called “V2X” ( Vehicle to everything) . “You have to constantly download an electronic horizon to be aware of a change on the road.This amounts to using the 5G as an additional sensor,” says Julien Masson, director of the connected car service of Orange Business Services. Another use makes 5G mandatory, according to Johannes Springer, Deutsche Telekom  : Simultaneous emergency braking to avoid a pileup. “After a first vehicle activates its emergency braking, it can transmit the information directly to the vehicles behind it so that they brake in turn.”

“You have to download an electronic horizon at all times to be aware of a change on the road, which means using the 5G as an additional sensor”

To successfully implement these technologies, operators are experimenting closely with the automotive industry. An obligation to position itself in the market for autonomous vehicle services, believes Johannes Springer. “Those who have a deep understanding of the needs of car manufacturers will be able to create the infrastructure and operate in a co-creation approach and will be in a good competitive position.” This collaboration is illustrated by the creation of the 5G automotive association (5GAA), which brings together operators (OBS, Deutsche Telekom, AT & T …) and telecom equipment manufacturers (Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia …) as well as manufacturers (PSA, Ford, Daimler …) and auto parts suppliers (Bosch, Continental …). Semiconductor manufacturers are also represented,

For example, Deutsche Telekom is involved in about fifteen experiments on the connected and autonomous vehicle in Germany and abroad. Orange Business Services is a member of the Towards 5G project with PSA, the telecom equipment supplier Ericsson, and Qualcomm to test various use cases in the automotive sector, including V2X communications. The French operator’s B2B subsidiary will also supply the 4G and then 5G network of the autonomous vehicle testing center Linas-Montlhéry (Essone), which will open in October. Similar initiatives are under way outside Europe, notably in the United States (AT & T) and in South Korea, where SK Telecom is testing 5G for autonomous vehicles in test centers and on open roads. The South Korean operator announced the arrival in 2019 of a V2X telecommunication network based on 5G on the main highways of the country.

A network cut into slices

These tests should address a number of technical challenges. “On paper, anything is possible.We have a nice promise, now we must go check it,” admits Julien Masson. These challenges include the ability of operators to deploy edge computing technologies, a practice of installing miniature access points to the network. They have a smaller range than large antennas but allow a shorter latency due to their proximity to the user.

In addition to ensuring low latency, operators will have to show that their network is almost never cut, since a disconnection could have serious consequences for an autonomous vehicle in full race. One of the tracks envisaged is the division of the 5G network into different slices, explains Julien Masson. “Instead of having a big telecom pipe that can be used by everyone, the goal is to cut it into small pieces: this piece is a high priority because it feeds critical services such as the autonomous car , and another one. is less, because if the service goes down while watching Netflix, it’s less serious. ”

Another crucial issue: interoperability. Inter-vehicle and infrastructure communications will only be possible if everyone speaks the same language. “There is obviously competition between manufacturers on the calendar and use cases, but traffic is a collaborative effort,” said Johannes Springer. “It would not make sense for a Mercedes not to warn a BMW of a danger on the road.” Interoperability will also have to be between telecom operators to ensure the transition from one network to another when an autonomous vehicle crosses a border. Despite these challenges, the arrival of 5G and autonomous vehicles also represents an opportunity for operators to become indispensable to mobility services, says Johannes Springer.