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At CES, network firms bring gigabit connectivity to carmakers

With more and more carmakers fitting out their newest models with advanced software platforms and new capabilities, attention at CES has also turned to the network connectivity needed to make connected vehicles work

So far, one of the biggest themes of CES 2017, the annual consumer electronics jamboree in Las Vegas, has been connected vehicles. Global carmakers have been showing off new ideas that will help enhance the driving experience and improve safety on the roads.

As already explored by Computer Weekly, BMW, Ford, Renault and Toyota, among many others, are all teaming up with some of the biggest names in the IT industry to develop the connected car technology of the future.

However, under the bonnet, so to speak, all of these software platforms and features will require ultrafast and ultra-reliable connectivity, and this year, CES also saw a number of announcements around the underlying networking technology that is to make connected cars a ubiquitous reality.

First off the starting grid at CES 2017 was Qualcomm Technologies, which introduced a new variant of its connected car reference platform, using its gigabit class Snapdragon X16 long-term evolution (LTE) modem.

Qualcomm already supplies both 3G and 4G modems for the automotive industry, but reckons that its latest product, which can support peak download speeds of up to 1Gbps – up to 10 times as fast as first generation 4G LTE devices, which will be vital to help car manufacturers deliver on their promises.

It claims that its reference platform quickly and easily helps carmakers integrate a broad range of wireless and networking technologies, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).

“Connected cars are becoming intelligent sensors on the road, not only using data for consumer use cases such as Wi-Fi hotspots and video streaming, but also collecting and transmitting critical, real-time information about road conditions, map updates and driver status,” said Patrick Little, senior vice-president and general manager of automotive at Qualcomm Technologies.

“Qualcomm Technologies is well positioned to address the tremendous data demand, helping automakers integrate the broad set of technologies required by a new generation of connected vehicles,” he said.

Volkswagen is one company that has already started to work closely with Qualcomm, and it expects to make vehicles available using its Snapdragon processors and LTE modems before the end of the decade.

The German carmaker is particularly interested in supporting infotainment systems, which are becoming a more relevant factor in customer buying decisions.

“As we look at the future of the automotive industry, we see mobile technologies at its core, and connectivity as its foundation,” said Volkmar Tanneberger, head of electrical and electronic development at Volkswagen.

“Utilising Qualcomm Technologies’ expertise and leadership in mobile technologies, we look forward to having our next generation of automobiles feature highly advanced telematics and infotainment systems that support superior connectivity for the security and safety of our consumers, as well as high bandwidth support for autonomy and multimedia capabilities.”

Preparing for 5G

Meanwhile, Intel revealed a swathe of new products to support motorists with the introduction of Intel Go, an automated driving technology based on its processor and FPGA (field programmable gate array) chips.

Alongside this, it announced the world’s first 5G modem supporting both sub-6GHz bands and millimetre-wave spectrum. It claimed that the modem, which includes a compact, low-power chip, will eventually deliver speeds in excess of 5Gbps, as well as ultra-low latency to help truly autonomous cars make near-instantaneous choices.

Intel believes that autonomous vehicles will effectively become datacentres on wheels, absorbing and generating huge amounts of data.

“The importance of 5G to our self-driving future cannot be overstated,” said Doug Davis, senior vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Automated Driving Group, on Intel’s technology blog. “Automated vehicles will both generate and take in huge amounts of data in order to navigate and react to sudden changes.

“Today’s communications systems simply were not designed to handle the large bandwidth required to support this. That’s where 5G comes in, delivering faster speeds, ultra-low latency and vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity for the era of automated driving.”

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Aicha Evans, Intel corporate vice-president and general manager of communication and devices, explained that one of the biggest challenges currently facing mobile network operators was keeping up with demand for speed and network capacity from people starting to use more data-heavy applications.

“The new Intel 5G modem is laying the groundwork for new devices capable of enhanced broadband speeds to satisfy media-hungry users,” she said.

More importantly, 5G will enable industries to improve our daily lives. With 5G, autonomous vehicles will be able to make decisions in milliseconds to keep drivers and vehicles safe.”

Intel’s product has grown out of a 5G trial platform that the supplier first deployed early in 2016, and is currently being trialled in a number of locations. The firm is collaborating with a number of communications services providers.

The specific automotive platform will also allow carmakers to develop and test their own 5G-ready applications and services.

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