Network, 6G, and beyond

Delivering on technology’s potential

Philip Nothard, Insight and Strategy Director, Cox Automotive:

“While we are not yet driving around in the equivalent of a smartphone or wearable device, consumers are expecting an increasingly connected experience. As drivers, we are prepared to trade a little of our privacy to make the whole driving experience more seamless and integrated with the rest of our lives.”

Over-The-Air (OTA) updates

Although Tesla is the manufacturer best known for OTA updates, others are now getting in on the action. In recent weeks, Volkswagen has launched OTA for all its ID models, suggesting updates every 12 weeks could become part of a future driver revenue stream. They are also anticipated to be instrumental in autonomous vehicle development. Toyota and Lexus are expected to follow suit in the next five years, with the launch of the Arene operating system software.

OTA updates are focused on infotainment systems and ADAS technology in the first place, but the potential applications are considerable. Geofencing, vehicle health, and EV charging management are also likely to see OTA play an increasingly significant role. Smart connected vehicles could choose when to dynamically charge while on the move based on location data around traffic patterns, while battery life could be extended through software patches and new lines of code.

While there are challenges with OTA updates which in the worst case could leave owners frozen out of their vehicles – or trapped within them, the opportunities are substantial. Through connecting to the vehicle remotely, unnecessary trips to service centres can be reduced; vehicle manufacturers can be certain that updates have been applied where required from a safety perspective; and consumers can enjoy greater convenience as they don’t have to drop their vehicle off for a garage appointment. When it comes to vehicle values and resale, OTA updates can help a vehicle retain its value because it is running the latest software.

There is, however, a legitimate concern for consumers who fear the car they bought second or third hand could have technology removed or disabled after money has been transferred. Furthermore, with vehicles being used rather than owned, it is possible, though currently unlikely, that manufacturers could tweak settings to create a different experience for each driver depending on how much they have paid to access the vehicle or how they intend to use it. This could cause real headaches for the valuations market which is used to pricing a vehicle based on its specification. If that can change post-sale, then how do organisations set accurate valuations?

The link between connectivity and charging

Alongside OTA updates, which are now primarily driven by the road to electrification, another buzz concept of 2021 is smart charging and load balancing. With a sharp uplift in the volume of vehicles connecting to the grid, and governments worldwide starting to mandate investment in public and domestic charging infrastructure, it is important to consider how to manage the additional demand on legacy power systems. In the UK, for example, recent consultations have explored requirements for all domestic chargers to have a default off-peak charging mode.

Advances in technology will enable smart chargers to communicate with each other as well as the grid to determine the most efficient and cost-effective times to charge. Consumers could plug in overnight but set their vehicle to only charge at the cheapest tariff times, and only up to 80%, for example. Likewise, for Vehicle to Grid (V2G) to be a viable option, the connectivity infrastructure supporting the communications between the vehicle and the power network needs to improve.

Beyond the ‘dumb’ socket

"Connectivity is actually one of the most important aspects of charging infrastructure right now. There is a significant shift in the market from ‘dumb’ wall sockets to smart connectors which manage load balancing and report insights back to the driver, business or infrastructure provider. This is especially relevant when it comes to the perennial discussion about grid anxiety. While the transmission system will cope with increased demand, there could be challenges around local power distribution.

"Multibillion pound investment is required to upgrade distribution networks for the electrification of heat, and this will ultimately support electric vehicles too. In the meantime, ‘time of use’ and dynamic tariffs to manage charging demand are becoming more significant. There is broad consensus among industry and policymakers that home charging will need to happen off-peak. We will also see legislation requiring all domestic charging units to come with a default off-peak mode."

Tom Callow, Head of Insight and External Affairs at bp pulse

5G, 6G, and beyond 

If the development trend continues, then 6G technology would be expected by the end of the decade. However, with 5G using up a great deal of power and many systems still running on legacy 3G and 4G platforms, the reality is that 6G may be a step too far for telecommunications providers who have yet to recoup their previous investments. However, for many of the driverless mobility systems being announced to become a reality, there will be a requirement to speed up signal communications and deliver more efficient data transfer processes. From a safety perspective, it wouldn’t be acceptable for connection to drop while remote piloting a vehicle on public roads.

In the meantime, while the 5G network deployment is accelerating, it still covers a comparatively low proportion of the world. Countries like South Korea, China and Japan are pushing ahead with investment in 6G research; but markets like India and Africa are only just starting to explore 5G trials. There could be large parts of the world still operating on 3G and 4G, when other countries make the switch to 6G. The question is what this means for the automotive sector, which has much longer development cycles than smartphone devices and other personal telecoms technology.

"For mobility solutions to live up to their potential, we need to see rapid deployment of the 5G network and accelerated investment in 6G to support increased connected and AI infrastructure. This is especially the case if we want to develop beyond SAE Level 4, where automated features drive the vehicle with no human input. There are still plenty of unresolved questions around 2D vs. 3D imaging, lidar vs. camera and so on. Connectivity will answer some, but not all, of those."

Sebastian Fuchs, Managing Director Manheim and RMS Automotive Continental Europe