Connected vehicles are one of the strong opportunities helping the telco industry recoup heavy investment into 5G networks.

However, the jury is currently out on whether 5G will form a core part of the autonomous vehicle ecosystem. Are telcos set to miss out on a huge potential revenue stream?

Connected cars are hitting the roads but will they need a 5G network?

Gartner estimates that 250 million connected cars will be on the road by 2020. While these may not be the self-driving cars of science fiction, they will have wireless connections that can support some automated driving processes, infotainment and telematics to enhance road safety.

Whilst there is little question that connected cars are our future, we have seen fierce debate about how these autonomous vehicles will talk to each other and the infrastructure around them.

In the blue corner are carmakers including Renault, Toyota, and Hyundai who favor a vehicle-to-vehicle system (V2V). This is a short-range technology using an exclusive band of spectrum for inter-car communication. Supporters of this technology argue that is already available, so there will be no delay in introducing vehicles with connected safety features to our roads.

In the red corner are the telcos, alongside car manufacturers such as Volkswagen and BMW. This group is in favor of a long-range cellular system, whereby cars share the airwaves alongside mobile phone signals and other data traffic.

Clearly, for the telecommunication companies, there is a vested interest in the latter. As discussed before, investment in upcoming 5G networksrequired huge CapEx and telcos need a strong monetization strategy.

However, the argument for long-range cellular connectivity runs deeper than ‘filling the network’. To understand this we need to explore the use case for connected vehicles in a bit more detail.

V2V will allow vehicles to speak to each other, allowing cars to drive much closer together on the roads and synchronizing reactions to avoid accidents. However, some share a more ambitious goal whereby vehicles should be able to communicate with nearby infrastructure and even pedestrians. This adds a new dimension to the ways in which automation can reduce injuries and road deaths. It also means that traffic flow will be improved by tracking vehicle networks to determine the least congested routes.

These use cases are collectively known as vehicle-to-everything (V2X). The functionality required to enable them will be dependent on 5G mobile networks being rolled out. V2X will be slower than V2V, but ultimately more holistic in terms of creating a smarter, safer road system.

Opportunity ahead

Telcos will need to move fast and be bold if they want to capture the opportunity around automated vehicles. However, new use cases can only be supported if the infrastructure is in place. This is why those of you in facilities and data center roles will be critical as telecommunication companies look to position themselves as the backbone of the connected car network.

When it comes to a V2X connected cars, the performance of the network and underlying data center can literally be life-critical. With this in mind, telcos seeking a connected-cars play need to shore up critical infrastructure to support the V2X service proposition. For facilities managers who are looking to support this business evolution here are some key points to consider:

Reducing latency with 5G network

The promise of V2X is automated responses to risk situations; reducing accidents, injuries and fatalities. However, if network orchestration fails at the critical moment, the principal function of these systems is eliminated and lives put at risk. Thankfully low latency is one of the key selling points of a 5G network. To enable this telecommunication companies need to bring processing closer to road infrastructure - which is often a data blind-spot at present. This can be achieved through a network of edge data centers.

Connected Vehicles Security

Security is another key concern as each connected vehicle becomes a new endpoint, which could open up the network to threats. This is why fleets of connected cars need to be protected from hackers and malware. In Europe, the 5G European 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5GPPP) has recommended that telcos invest in standardized security technologies including network slicing, micro segmentation and MTC Space to boost threat protection.

Data analytics of autonomous cars

The collection and analysis of data will be integral to the connected car economy. For manufacturers, data insights will help “transform the customer experience and create new services” according to Ford CEO Mark Fields. For local governments, this data can help improve traffic flow and safety.

Data centers must provide underlying infrastructure to manage the larger compute and storage requirements that connected cars will generate. From AC and DC power supplies to servers, racks, switches, space, power, cooling and remote management, every element of the data center must be operating at its best and most cutting edge capacity to enable meaningful data analysis, much of which must take place in real time. Both telco and data functions must also be as densely packaged as possible to suit the real estate locations currently occupied by the telco, blending into the existing network landscape.

With 5G network, connected cars provide a huge market opportunity for telcos as they seek to carve out new revenue streams and ensure their relevance beyond the data-pipe. However, in this instance, with great opportunity comes great responsibility. Infrastructure has never been more critical which is why I&O teams will find themselves at the heart of this journey.