Europe Speeding Toward Connected, Automated Driving

One of the overarching themes of the Brussels ‘Connected Cars Europe’ conference was how to accommodate, reconcile and bring together the many competing and sometimes conflicting interests of the different future road transport stakeholder communities.

At least one presenter felt it useful to point out that connected cars and autonomous cars are really very different things.

“There seems to be a fair bit of confusion out there,” said Chris Woolford, director of international spectrum policy at the United Kingdom’s Office of Communications (Ofcom). “Autonomous cars, almost by definition, do not require connectivity. They can drive themselves, using equipment that’s installed on the cars—sensors, things like radars and cameras. There may be a degree of connectivity, for instance to road-side infrastructure, but this is a short-range type of communication.”

The next level up, Woolford said, involves connectivity to networks, and this could potentially provide important information to autonomous cars. For example, connectivity to some sort of network could provide access to maps, road traffic and road safety information. “All of this is what we call ITS.”

“And then there is the final level,” Woolford said “Say we’ve got these wonderful autonomous cars in the future where we don’t need to have a steering wheel or pedals or anything like that. The people sitting in them will want to do things, and that’s when the question of broader connectivity, in terms of entertainment and the sorts of things you can get over mobile networks, comes into play. That’s not part of the ITS picture, not correlated to safety aspects of the car.”

So a conference on connected cars might reasonably not be expected to include any talk of autonomous cars, a notion that certainly caused consternation among the autonomous car buffs crowding the event.

They need not have worried. Woolford’s point was politely taken, but it did not stop most others from lumping together the various cars of tomorrow; cars that may or may not be automated but will certainly all be connected. Maja Bakran Marcich, who is deputy director-general of the European Commission’s transport Directorate-General, DG Move, repeatedly referred to connected and automated cars in the same breath, as being subject to the same EU policy treatment.

Marcich said the Commission is working to establish a single EU-wide platform for connected and automated cars. In practice, this has meant a lot of research funding and initiatives aimed at enticing stakeholders to sit together and thrash things out. And there are guidelines, roadmaps and rafts of money on the way. The role of the Commission and the EU in general, she said, “is not just to legislate, but to try to create the enabling framework for activities. The core of our efforts is to give impetus to cooperation.”

EU Doing All It Can

On the very day the Commission was pushing for cooperation at the Connected Cars conference, it was busy in another part of town adopting the third and final part of its massive ‘Europe on the Move’ package, “aimed at making Europe a world leader for fully automated and connected mobility systems,” Marcich said. Among other things, the package comprises a new EU Communication on Connected and Automated Mobility, and two legislative initiatives aimed at establishing a digital environment for information exchange in transport.

“All of this will be accompanied by a new call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility,” Marcich said, “with 450 million available for projects contributing to road safety, digitization and multimodality.” Also, under the CEF Telecom program, she said, there will be an additional 4 million allotted for cybersecurity for cooperative, connected and automated mobility.

It doesn’t stop there. “In addition,” Marcich said, “we will adopt by the end of this year a new regulation under the ITS Directive with the objective of ensuring secured and trustful communication between vehicles and infrastructure, sound data protection and interoperability of messages for safety-related and traffic management services.” The hope here, she said, is to provide legal certainty for car manufacturers and road operators, who will start with mass deployment in 2019.

The EU has already provided 440 million for the digitization of road infrastructure. Adding up various funding initiatives, the EU will have spent 1 billion under the current budgetary framework for connected and automated road transport, and Marcich said she expects to see a similar amount under the next framework.

A rapid increase in availability and accessibility of data will also pose new challenges, she said. Unlike in some parts of the world, much of the legal framework necessary for meeting those challenges is already in place in the EU. For example, the European vehicle type approval framework was modernized in 2018, introducing market surveillance rules that will be key for driverless vehicles. The EU also has new data protection rules, just implemented in May; the highly visible General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims primarily to give citizens and residents control over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business. It will have a big impact on how business models in the connected car sector develop.

“But not all measures can be technical or legal,” Marcich said. “To make these cars a success, we also need acceptance and uptake.” She cited one study that showed that while 58 percent of Europeans would be OK with riding in a driverless car themselves, only 35 percent of parents said they would let their kids ride in one. “So we will still need to ensure that people believe in these vehicles, in our high safety and security standards.” And that will require a completely different kind of communication.

As for real regulatory action, Marcich admitted, “Even if we have a magic formula, when you look at our procedures, they take some time, and with this rapidly developing environment certainly you can’t always know if this is the right decision or if that is the right decision—and then we put something on the table and it takes two, three years sometimes with the co-decision process. So this is where indeed the discussion platforms, the fora, are playing a huge role.”

Cross-Border Testing Well Underway

Jean Schiltz is a Smart Mobility Expert supporting Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy. He described what appears to be a set of real-life, healthy, cooperative, European initiatives—several active cross-border corridors serving as test beds for connected and automated cars—now in place and delivering results.

These include corridors linking:

• Metz, France; Merzig, Germany and Luxembourg;

• Rotterdam and Eindhoven in the Netherlands with Antwerp, Belgium

• Merida, Spain and Evora, Portugal;

• The E8 ‘Aurora Borealis’ corridor from Tromso, Norway to Oulu, Finland;

• The ‘Nordic Way’ linking parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway.

These test-bed corridors have been established through a number of different cooperative agreements over the past two years. One example is the ‘German-Franco Initiative on Electric and Digital Mobility,’ launched in 2016. At least one additional non-cross-border corridor is operating inside Portugal, from Porto to Vigo.

Schiltz’s ministry is closely involved with the France-Germany-Luxembourg corridor along with a tall stack of partners including big-name car manufacturers and telecomm network operators—all of whom are clearly all in when it comes to getting connected cars on the road sooner rather than later. Under study are various communication technologies, such as ITS G5, 4G, LTE-V2X, satellite, 5G and others. The project will prepare reports concerning public perception and acceptability, critical safety-related situations and events for automated cars, and will assess priority of connectivity needs and quality requirements.

Another key output will be an assessment of the impact of connected and automated driving on traffic fluidity and fuel consumption. On the Luxembourg-to-France leg of the corridor alone, Schiltz said, more than 80,000 commuters cross the border every day, causing enormous congestion issues.

The state of advancement of the European test corridors demonstrates the real impetus behind getting connected cars rolling in Europe. However, there do remain a number of fundamental technical details to be worked out, not least of which is the question of radio spectrum. Once again, the European Commission comes to the rescue, this time in the person of Andreas Geiss, EC Head of Unit for Radio Spectrum Policy.


“Connectivity in cars is all about wireless,” Geiss said, explaining from scratch, “and so we have to make sure that this wireless connectivity is reliable, that it’s fast and that it should be everywhere. That is something that is going to be a major challenge for the network operators but also for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

When the Commission set out its connectivity targets last year in the ‘Gigabit Society’ Communication, it said that by 2025 all urban areas as well as the major roads and railways should have uninterrupted 5G wireless broadband coverage. By 2020, at least one city in each European country should have that level of capacity.

“Cooperative, connected and automated mobility is really the key driver in terms of demand,” Geiss said. “The trials and the cross-border corridors are going to be very important in this area, and we will be supporting that with research funds, with 150 million for broadband. We have been discussing and are still negotiating the code, the electronic communications code, aiming at facilitating investment in the roll-out of 5G networks.”

Why do we need 5G when we already have good 4G networks that are quite pervasive? Geiss said 5G will have features of particular interest for automated driving: “Low-latency, reliability, which has to go up, and also the network slicing that will allow us to ensure that certain specialized services can also be reliably used everywhere they are needed. And I’m talking about slicing up the network, not splitting the spectrum.”

Geiss said recent high-level meetings revealed there are still big differences of opinion among stakeholders as to how to proceed. The Commission and other important players are looking closely at the 5.9 GHz band for 5G: “We know for example, that car manufacturers like VW are going ahead with this. We have a lot of support through the C-Roads project,” an infrastructure investment initiative involving 16 EU member states.

There is also a lot going on in the area of LTE-V2X (LTE mobile signals for vehicle-to-everything connectivity), he said, also using the 5.9 GHz band. “For example, BMW is very much supportive of 5.9 GHz and we have heard about where they see this going and the need to actually integrate this into 5G technology. And then we have yet another approach from companies like Tesla who say we don’t need any of these technologies, we’ll just use sensors, visual identity, together with artificial intelligence.”

The Radio Spectrum Committee, which Geiss chairs, is pushing for measures that will allow coexistence of LTE-V2X and urban rail ITS with existing ETSI ITSG525, all within the 5,875-5,925 MHz frequency band.

“The principle of equal access to shared spectrum shall be applied,” he said, “taking into account the need to avoid harmful interference and the need for reliable safety-related operation in the whole band. We support the discussion of all options, including co-channel co-existence. Whatever we do, we need to ensure uncompromised safety, and a technology-neutral approach.”

Can’t We All Co-Exist?

Lending his weight to the argument for co-existence was Robert MacDougall, head of enterprise public policy at Vodafone who also represented the view of the automotive association 5GAA. He started by spelling out the concept of Cellular V2X: “C-V2X is a unified platform—and the word ‘unified’ is really important—integrating two things. First you have short-range direct communications between cars, so it’s V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), LTE-V2X PC5. Here you don’t need a SIM card or network assistance, and you have low-latency, direct safety, communication that will work without network coverage.

“And then you have the long-range element, and this is a different interface, and that track is carried over your licensed carrier network and can be particularly important for your infrastructure applications, V2N (vehicle-to-network) applications and V2Pedestrian applications.”

With C-V2X you get the best of both worlds, MacDougall argued. “You get the PC5 with short range V2V applications and you get the Uu (radio) interface for wide area and a broader range of services.” As of now, 5GAA is testing C-V2X technology all over Europe and the world, he said, including in Germany, Spain, France, the UK, in the U.S., China and Korea.

“This is a real international activity,” he said. C-V2X has been developed by 3GPP, which is essentially the standardization forum for the cellular industry. We all know how successful the GSM has been on the global scale, so it’s that same body that has developed this specification, expressly for connected and automated cars.”

In terms of recommendations for EU Policy for cooperative ITS, 5GAA believes any legislation that would specify connectivity requirements for C-ITS, including any ‘hybrid approach’ that equates IEEE 802.11p with short-range applications and cellular with long-range applications, would run contrary to the principles of the ITS Directive. The Directive says any backward compatibility requirements should not hinder the development of new technologies, in this case 5G, which would go against the core principle of technology neutrality in Europe.

“A policy of co-existence should be favored,” MacDougall concluded. “A study carried out for 5GAA shows that co-existence of IEE 802.11p and C-V2X at 5.9 GHz would deliver the highest socio-economic benefits, compared to scenarios where only one technology is mandated.”

He also argued that reduced infrastructure deployment costs arising from re-use of existing mobile infrastructure would be a further key benefit of C-V2X.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here,” MacDougall said. “Such an approach as the one we are suggesting facilitates an evolutionary path toward 5G.”

Last Word On Spectrum

For the last word, we go back to the start, to Ofcom’s Chris Woolford: “From the spectrum regulator’s perspective, I think that the key challenge here is to ensure that access to spectrum is not a barrier to the development of connected cars. We’ve already made 30MHz of spectrum available, and that spectrum is not so extensively used at the moment, and we are also looking to see whether that spectrum should be expanded by a further 20MHz.”

Woolford stressed two key elements. First, he said, “We need to be sure about technology neutrality. It is not in the remit of a regulator to pick winning technologies.” And, second, “segmenting the band is not a good idea. It doesn’t represent good use of spectrum; you are effectively giving out more spectrum than is required in order to allow different technologies to use the spectrum, and that doesn’t make much sense in terms of optimizing the use of what is a very finite and sought-after resource.”

But he also warned against overplaying the question of spectrum.

“It is sometimes tempting to come in and over-regulate, and I think that’s something we mustn’t do when it comes to spectrum. What we do need to do is to think about how spectrum is being made available and what sort of spectrum, what bands, in what form of availability, and how we go about the licensing process to be sure that we are meeting the individual needs of the connected car, whether that’s around all connectivity for entertainment or whether it’s related to safety of life. There will be differences in terms of how we make that spectrum available.”