Qualcomm undeterred on road to C-V2X

Qualcomm building
Qualcomm has been involved in cellular vehicle-to-everything trials in the U.S. and China. (FierceWireless)

In the ongoing debate about which technology should serve the connected car of the future—dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) or the newer cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X)—it’s clear which one Qualcomm is betting on.

Qualcomm, which is capable of supporting both DSRC and C-V2X, has been firmly on the record as favoring C-V2X over DSRC, saying it shows better performance, reliability and a road map to the future. And it’s racked up a lot of experience, both in the U.S. and abroad, proving that out.

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The chip vendor has been especially busy in China, where it’s working with the China Mobile Research Institute and China Mobile IoT (CMIoT), a subsidiary of China Mobile. Earlier this month, they announced new roadside units for 3GPP Release 14 LTE-V2X direct communication (PC5) based on the Qualcomm 9150 C-V2X chipset solution.  

So does China appear on the verge of mandating C-V2X, as some have suggested?

Nakul Duggal, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, said there might not be a mandate, but things happen in China on a very different scale than in other parts of the world. China Mobile, it’s worth noting, is the world’s largest mobile operator, with more than 902 million subscribers as of June 2018.

“I think we are in stage one, where we are starting to see and participate in a lot of trials across the country—state governments, provincial governments, operators, many different testbeds across the country where trials for the technology are ongoing, and I think the timing is very interesting because 5G rollouts are also planned in 2019, so the message to the automotive industry and to really, everybody who’s been involved in the ecosystem, is this is now a technology foundation and from a car perspective, it is the right time to start to think about really bringing V2X communications” to vehicles and infrastructure, Duggal said.

“There might not be a mandate, but you will see enough activity in China over the next 18 months that automakers will start to plan for the technology and the products to be implemented in their vehicles and you will start to see a vibrant ecosystem,” he told FierceWirelessTech. There will come a time for certification for use cases, and that is most likely to start sometime next year, he said.

“In the U.S., we have done a lot of trials that have been focused on performance” across multiple locations with Ford, and that’s to validate the performance of the technology in real-world conditions, he said. “Most of these trials, the good thing about them is that because the spectrum is harmonized, once you perform a certain set of use cases and tests in one market, expanding that to another market is fairly straightforward.” A few things change, but the fundamentals are not that different.

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He acknowledged some folks are still investing in DSRC, which was the only game in town for decades. It was a good concept, but it never really took off, he said.

“In our discussions with automakers, the very clear ask was, it would be great if you could just integrate me into X technology, into the modem that we’re already going to purchase, because that way the incremental cost of enabling this technology is minimized and it will allow us to be able to put this into our cars,” he said.

That would obviously reduce the burden on the economics, and it would it into more cars faster, and that’s a very simple premise that a number of automakers have bought into.

Of course, a number of automakers are going to stay silent on the issue, figuring they don’t need to rush into it. Once the right technology is available, they’ll make their move.

However, there's a separate camp, which has existed going back to the early DSRC days, which is now realizing that DSRC, given it doesn’t have a similar evolution as C-V2X, is “stuck,” because it offers a set of features that were developed 10, 15 years ago, he said. Yet it doesn’t provide an option to upgrade to get to where it needs to be with 5G.    

RELATED: FCC’s Rosenworcel urges rethink on 5.9 GHz band

The whole situation gets more complicated because advocates behind both DSRC and C-V2X want to use the 5.9 GHz spectrum, so the question becomes whether they could both safely coexist in that spectrum. But Duggal doesn’t think that’s a great solution, either.  

“If you have to put two radios in the car and it has to talk two different languages, it’s very complicated and if you’re speaking two different languages,” that’s just inefficient, he said.

The FCC has been studying the feasibility of DSRC and Wi-Fi sharing, but those test results haven’t yet been publicly released.

Duggal remains undeterred, noting Qualcomm has been in active discussions with entities like the FCC and Department of Defense. “I would like something to happen within this calendar year in terms of a clear path that C-V2X is something that will be an option” and available in North America, he said.