Connected cars have become one of the oldest 5G clichés in the book, and yet in recent weeks the whole opportunity has begun to resemble a freeway pile-up in progress.
Developments took a nasty turn in April when the European Commission was reported to have backed plans to promote a WiFi-based standard over 5G. The move had support from carmakers, including Renault and Toyota, as well as technology firms, including NXP, a semiconductor maker with headquarters in the Netherlands.
But it spelled major engine trouble for the cellular industry, which argued that mandating a specific technology would force it off the road. Opponents of the WiFi decision included cellular players such as Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Qualcomm and Samsung, as well as several carmakers, with Daimler, Ford and PSA Group among them.
In the latest twist, a different set of policymakers has now voted to scrap the WiFi-only scheme, after noisy lobbying by groups such as the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), European Telecommunications Network Operators (ETNO) and 5G Automobile Association (5GAA). Representatives from different EU member states appear to have voted through the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) -- one of the lesser known of the European Union's byzantine institutions -- to reject the Delegated Act on C-ITS (that's Co-operative Intelligent Transport Systems, to the uninitiated).
Predictably enough, the 5G advocates are as chuffed as a boy racer given the keys to a Bugatti.
"Europe just got back in the connected car race against the US and China," said Mats Granryd, the Director General of the GSM Association (another big cellular association), in a prepared statement. "Thousands of lives on the roads and thousands of jobs in our factories will be saved with this cutting-edge technology. Europeans will also save billions of euros in a more seamless single market."
The GSMA has consistently argued that the C-ITS legislation would have been a roadblock for cellular technologies like C-V2X, a connectivity standard tailor-made for cars, and that it would have tied Europe to what is undiplomatically described as an "ageing radio technology" in its statement.
Granryd is not the only one crowing about the apparent U-turn, either. "The GSA, along with other leading mobile and automotive industry associations, believe the C-ITS ecosystem should neither be limited by technology nor place Europe and mobile and automotive companies at a clear disadvantage to other regions of the world," said Joe Barrett, the GSA's president. "The decision by EU member states to reject the Delegated Act on C-ITS and request the European Commission to reconsider its scope is great news for technology neutrality and signals a positive future for connected intelligent transport systems in Europe."
It's now over to the Council of the European Union, which votes on COREPER's decision on Monday, according to press reports. The path of European legislation remains as twisty as the Circuit de Monaco.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading