Can China Steal a Lead in Intelligent Transport Systems?

The Government is starting with small projects and, as successes mount, it intends to scale them nationally while being active in international standards development, so as to be a major global provider.

March 12, 2018

4 Min Read
Can China Steal a Lead in Intelligent Transport Systems?

At this year’s Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, the connected car emerged as potentially one of the first platforms to take advantage of 5G. It was suggested that, by 2020, we could see many of the car OEMs incorporating 5G into their vehicles. This may seem a little unusual, since car manufacturers are not usually seen as early adopters of the latest generation of cellular, but a couple of factors may be driving this. One is that the two leading markets for 5G are China and the U.S., both huge car markets and, in the case of China, growing rapidly. Another factor is that the design philosophy of the OEMs has been changing from adding technology onto the car to building the platform around the technology. Undoubtedly stimulated by the way that Tesla has leveraged new technology, the OEMs must be planning their platforms now for 2020 and beyond.

The availability of LTE vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, operating in the ITS bands (e.g. 5.9GHz) in the form of chipsets and developer kits, means that Release 14 capabilities can be cost effectively installed on to vehicles, providing not only vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication but also the capability for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) communication - and the timing of 2020 seems to be a probable target date.

Additionally, as Release 16 chipsets and cars are introduced, the existing Release 14 cars will still be able to communicate with the Release 16 vehicles, which is the planned forward compatible evolution to 5G defined by 3GPP. These advanced Release 16 features are complimentary capabilities to continue the advance of autonomous vehicles.

It is key to understand that connected cars and the path to autonomous cars are enhanced by the availability of LTE-V2X capabilities. This capability is also an enabling technology for the intelligent transport systems (ITS) and smart city traffic management. ITS is the application of information and communications technologies applied to all modes of road transport, including infrastructure, vehicles and users, to enhance the management efficiency of traffic and mobility.

The availability of low-cost LTE-V2X modules will mean that the provision of this ITS infrastructure, in the form of connected road side units (RSU), will become far more affordable. When seen as part of an overall IoT-enabled smart city that links traffic lights, road signs, license plate recognition, street lamps and digital signage into smart parking sensors and public transport systems, the streets of the future should become much safer and flow more freely.

In China, the government has already identified 5905-5925 MHz as a LTE-V2X experimental frequency band, and is in the process of officially allocating the band for ITS, so the scene is set to potentially accelerate the deployment of C-V2X. The question is: how far into the future will we have to wait for this nirvana to occur, and what can act as a catalyst? Each country will be different, and both the U.S. and Europe are undertaking various pilot projects to prove out different aspects. Some are government initiated and others are commercial-only initiatives.

China is trying a hybrid approach that could be the accelerant for V2I systems. It has brought stakeholders together to drive standardized connections for traffic lights, which are the most important node of V2I systems. The project is based on a LTE-V2X city-wide trial in the city of Wuxi, under the direction of the Traffic Management Research Institute of Ministry of Public Security (MPS), together with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), Jiangsu Province, China Mobile, Huawei, and the Wuxi traffic police division.

Based on an open industry platform, the project will promote standards formulation, application innovation, business model incubation and commercial implementation. The Wuxi Phase II Project will be extended to major urban areas, including some of the major highways in Wuxi. Leading national partners, such as Audi (China) and China FAW Group Corporation, are participating but the intent is to also include local enterprises to accelerate V2I development and build a model for smart traffic management around the world, and for next-generation V2I business applications. Along these lines, on January 11 2018, Chongqing Changan Automobile Co Ltd signed a cooperative agreement with China Mobile Chongqing Company, China Mobile IoT Company and Huawei to jointly develop LTE-V and 5G Internet of Vehicles.

Top-down IoT policies don’t work in many countries, but what is interesting is the role the Chinese government is playing as an initiator of this hybrid public / quasi private partnership and investment. The initial focus may be local, with a clear emphasis on solving traffic congestion issues in a revolutionary rather than evolutionary manner, but the long-term intent is clearly global. The Government is starting with small projects and, as successes mount, it intends to scale them nationally while being active in international standards development, so as to be a major global provider. This could allow China to steal a lead, and be an accelerant of LTE-VSI if cheap standardized interoperable RSU technologies are available for other cities and countries around the world.

— Steve Bell, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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