Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular technology is a relatively new concept to the motor industry. Up to a few years ago, automotive manufacturers, suppliers and OEMs saw LTE as a curiosity or treated it with skepticism. But as with most things in technology, a couple years is a lifetime.
Today, virtually every auto company has plans to add LTE to their vehicles, and OEMs increasingly view LTE as the de-facto standard for in-vehicle cellular connectivity.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Olivier Pauzet, Vice President, M2M Marketing, Sierra Wireless, what has changed since LTE first hit the scene.
Pauzet: A few things: First, with the deployment of LTE technology around the world, OEMs are seeing the possibilities that LTE can offer to improve the driving experience and bring services to the vehicle that weren’t possible before. Second, it has become increasingly clear that, when building solutions that will operate in the field for the next 10 or 15 years, LTE is the smartest long-term investment. Finally, the emergence of new LTE cellular technologies specifically for automotive is making it easier and less expensive to build in-vehicle LTE solutions than ever before.
AI: What are some of the new services?
Pauzet: The most obvious benefit of a faster cellular data connection to the vehicle is the ability to stream high-bandwidth services over the air (OTA). This can include infotainment services, like streaming online video to TVs in the back seat, videoconferencing and advanced navigation services. Audi, for example, is already using LTE to integrate advanced Google Earth navigation and real-time location services into the vehicle dashboard. Even more exciting for auto manufacturers, however, are the services LTE enables “under the hood.” For example, when a vehicle is capable of OTA connections of hundreds of megabits per second, it becomes possible to update the complete software in vehicles much more frequently and easily. LTE also significantly improves the driver experience even for services that don’t require higher-bandwidth connections. LTE has a tenth the latency of previous-generation cellular technologies. This speedier communication translates directly to a more responsive “feel”.
Many LTE networks also operate at lower frequencies than today’s 3G networks, which means that LTE-connected vehicles should have better cellular coverage. Of course, this is all just the beginning. Looking down the road, there are all sorts of interesting things that auto companies and OEMs can do with LTE. For example, in the future the LTE standard could allow ad-hoc communication between vehicles — such as vehicles sharing real-time traffic information with each other — even when they are outside network coverage. We are still a ways away from seeing such solutions on the road, but the possibilities are intriguing. LTE also has the potential to bring “Big Data” applications to the vehicle. Consider that most of today’s connected vehicle applications collect a narrow, specific set of information for a specific purpose. In the future, when all cars are linked to the cloud by a high-speed LTE connection, data from every system in the vehicle — and from every vehicle on the road — could be captured in real time, enabling automotive, safety and logistics applications that we can only begin to imagine.
AI: How does one plan for the future?
Pauzet: These possibilities are exciting, but automotive manufacturers and OEMs have a much more pragmatic reason to begin looking seriously at LTE: longevity. The fact is that even if older 3G or 2G networks are sufficient for many of the applications a vehicle will run today, those cellular technologies may not exist for the full lifespan of vehicles being produced over the next few years. Several major mobile network operators (MNOs) around the world have already announced plans to shut down their 2G networks. Today’s 3G networks will likely continue operating for many more years, but when manufacturers consider the expected lifespan of a new vehicle sold in 2015 — a vehicle that will likely still be on the road in 2030 — it only makes sense to think longer term. Even when MNOs move to the next generation of LTE, LTE Advanced, newer LTE cellular networks will still be backwards-compatible with today’s LTE-equipped vehicles.
AI: is there already a new generation of automotive LTE technologies?
Pauzet: In just a few years since the launch of the first LTE, the cellular modules have become more efficient and cost-effective. The latest generation of multicore LTE modules provide separate microprocessors for cellular connectivity and the in-vehicle application pre-integrated on a single application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). Pre-integrated multicore solutions like these make it possible to develop and deploy powerful connected applications much more quickly and at a much lower cost than when OEMs have to integrate all cellular components themselves. These cellular technologies are also smaller, consume less power, and provide superior security and reliability.
In addition, OEMs and their Tier suppliers can now take advantage of cellular solutions from vendors like Sierra Wireless that are designed specifically for in-vehicle solutions. New multicore LTE solutions like the Sierra Wireless AirPrime® AR7 series (the first automotive LTE module available for Verizon’s 4G LTE network) have been built from the ground up as “automotive-grade” cellular modules. These solutions are designed to meet the unique and demanding requirements of in-vehicle operation, including compliance with stringent automotive quality processes and industry certifications. They are also designed with automotive-specific development tools and libraries that simplify the process of developing, testing and launching in-vehicle cellular applications.
AI: What is the Road Ahead for LTE?
Pauzet: LTE may have been little more than a curiosity for automotive companies a few years ago, but today it is the clear standard for the connected automotive applications of the future. As a pioneer and global leader in automotive cellular technology, Sierra Wireless plans to continue working with our automotive industry customers to push the boundaries of what’s possible in a connected vehicle. As LTE networks and automotive cellular solutions continue to evolve, we can’t wait to find out what the future holds.