The connected car: what can Wi-Fi do for 5G?

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

May 15, 2019

via Flickr © nist6dh (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © nist6dh (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • WBA white paper identifies monetization opportunities for Wi-Fi and cars
  • Says there are many viable use cases
  • It envisages Wi-Fi in a set of complementary technology roles rather than as a straightforward 5G challenger

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has been having a delve into the potential (and current) applications for Wi-Fi technology for the connected car. As always with the WBA, it envisages Wi-Fi in a set of complementary technology roles rather than acting as straightforward challenger to 5G. So this is not a re-run of the famous spat over roadside connected car infrastructure (see  - 5G back in connected car contention after EU Parliament backs tech neutral approach). It’s a look at supporting and ‘application-proving in advance of 5G’ roles that Wi-Fi 6 in particular could take on,

The report, The Connected Vehicle: Understanding The Wi-Fi Opportunities And Use Cases highlights “the striking commonalities between the requirements associated with the multi-RAT (Radio Access Technologies) connected vehicle and the more conventional multi-RAT connected smartphone. Additionally, it outlines the benefits of applying well-established Wi-Fi roaming concepts, originally defined for smartphone use-cases, to nascent connected-vehicle roaming scenarios.”

However, there may also be an an implicit challenge to a part of the 5G business case involved here, in that the multi-RAT device (strange choice of acronym for a Wi-Fi-supporting organisation) can become a way of aggregating multiple data sources into one 5G connection at best; or of saving data generated by, or for, the car’s various systems (music downloads, map information, car telematics) for store and forwarding purposes when a Wi-Fi connection hoves into view. To some extent these capabilities will sometimes mean that using multiple 5G connections for all use-cases (the 5G industry’s idea of pervasive connectivity) will be undercut by canny users using their RAT devices to save money on multiple 5G subscriptions and (presumably) more expensive 5G connection tech -  as the WBA says, strikingly like the RAT connected smartphone. It points out that “the problems that need to be addressed for connected vehicles to utilize licensed and unlicensed RATs overlap with the problems that need to be addressed for smartphones to utilize the combination of cellular and Wi-Fi connections.”

In the end, as with the smartphone, it will come down to convenience and reliability versus cost - a calculation likely to change radically over time.

So what are the complementary use cases?

It’s expected that most automotive services revenue will come from in-vehicle infotainment services, however this doesn’t translate into profits for car manufacturers who fit cellular into vehicles since users prefer to use their personal smartphones which already provide access to all the music and content they like.  This has been obvious for some time. So that’s a problem for manufacturers, but where will WiFi fit in?

The WBA case is that  automobile manufacturers who have integrated telematics into their vehicles can use Wi-Fi today to get that data into the cloud. Likewise they can use Wi-Fi to download over the air (OTA) software and firmware updates, where today’s LTE just doesn’t have the legs to handle it (similar to the familiar smartphone recommendation to use WiFi overnight to update software).

Essentially, much mention has been made of 5G’s ability at ubiquitous, always-connected infotainment, navigation and comfort services. The report maintains that there are plenty of use cases that  combine non-ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage and the over-the-air (OTA) software and firmware capabilities already found in connected vehicles today. The report claims the combination of vehicle-generated telematics information with Wi-Fi could be used for:

  •  Applying predictive analytics to information already collected by telematics systems to preempt vehicle recalls, which cost the vehicle industry more than $9 billion annually
  • Predicting maintenance and repairs by uploading diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) over time, thus identifying specific parts needed for repairs, while also optimizing scheduling for those repairs
  • Reducing software bugs and security vulnerabilities through OTA firmware updates
  • Delivering advanced driver assistance services (ADAS) to improve driving safety
  • Enabling numerous applications that support and enhance the ability of first responders to provide public safety

In some ways non-ubiquitous (static?) Wi-Fi coverage actually makes a desirable connectivity option for vehicles given that ubiquitous coverage increases the temptation for a driver to use his/her mobile while on the move (disapproved of in many countries, banned outright in some) and of course streamed video cannot be displayed where the driver can see it.

It is notable that Tesler (electric car manufacturer) makes Wi-Fi its first choice for downloading updates and content when owners are parked up to recharge their vehicles and would otherwise have nothing to do. When the vehicle is stationary drivers are allowed to watch streamed video over Wi-Fi on the big screen positioned in front of them.

Worth reading:  download the report The Connected Vehicle: Understanding The Wi-Fi Opportunities And Use Cases.

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