5G and IoT will enable vehicle-to-everything connectivity

Connectivity brings EVs into the digital ecosystem, but infrastructure must be ready, 5G-enabled, and IoT-leveraged to link cars and services

The automotive industry is at a crossroads with technology and telecommunications. Barriers to entry, lower for technology providers and digital vehicle innovation, are the differentiating factor between success and failure as more companies look to meet the needs of consumers—and the planet—in the electric vehicle (EV) market. 

The challenges arising in the shift from mechanical to digital require significant input from technology professionals as everything becomes connected. Implementing this large-scale initiative, which could change the way we use transport, means enabling vehicles to connect to the surrounding digital ecosystem, and 5G and the internet of things (IoT) are key components in that. 

As we look at how 5G and IoT bring EVs into the digital landscape, we turn to the experts to discover how the cloud will be integrated into e-mobility. Henry Bzeih, Global Chief Strategy Officer Automotive & Transportation at Microsoft, brings first-hand insights from the technology firm as he analyses the industry. 

Bzeih tells us about the current application of IoT in the EV sector and the role 5G could play in connecting cars to their surroundings.

“IoT’s role in EV is centred around ‘things’, ‘insights’, and ‘actions’, which include the vehicle, its various interfaces and surroundings, such as smart cities, grids or utilities, and users etc,” says Bzeih. 

“While the deployment of the IoT ecosystem is pervasive, there are opportunities in industry collaboration from the capture of data across the value chain by connecting and synthesising this data to improve business outcomes. 

“From the 5G angle, there are myriad use cases fueled by massive connectivity, improved throughput, and super latency from the vehicle itself in areas of safety and autonomy to the factory floor.” 

Much like any other industry where technology dominates the competitive environment to provide new and exciting capabilities, EVs have a dual role to play: first, to act as a global testbed for electrification and second, to feature the integration of cloud solutions to carry out functions that would otherwise be done by their human counterparts. For most drivers, this could reduce inconveniences like maintenance and allow cars to run on the most efficient software via cloud-based upgrades. 

The potential is greater than many consumers realise. Cars are already receiving upgrades through the cloud—also known as ‘over-the-air (OTA)’ updates or ‘cloud-to-car’. This type of functionality brings the industry one step closer to autonomy, alleviating the need for drivers to physically take their car to be repaired in many scenarios. 

“Currently, there is still a gap in the tools IoT provides for EVs, as firms are at various stages of vehicle and infrastructure testing,” says Philip van der Wilt, VP EMEA at Samsara—an organisation pioneering Connected Operations Cloud and providing fleet management software.

“However, IoT-enabled data is important for shaping future management decisions—especially in areas such as charge tracking. Additionally, for manufacturers of EVs, access to real-world data once their vehicles have left the production line could prove key in the further development of their vehicles.” 

Much like mobile phones, cars will work at the edge while manufacturers issue updates via the cloud. The use of OTA updates varies depending on the manufacturer of the car. Software over the air (SOTA) is the most achievable form of update and has been implemented by the majority of automakers for some time. SOTA alleviates the need for software engineers to get hands-on with the car, instead allowing the roll out of updates without leaving the computer.

Pioneers in the EV realm, such as Tesla and NIO—leading car makers born from the technology field—are able to issue firmware over the air (FOTA), which is not as widely achievable in comparison to SOTA. FOTA is a fairly new concept that is yet to entice legacy automotive firms that are shifting from fuel power to electric. 

“Connected vehicles have achieved organic ubiquity, especially in the developed markets. Opportunities remain as we aim to extract value beyond the traditional legacy services where connectivity expands to the world around, e.g. a secure and reliable vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connection,” Bzeih says.

“Regulation is helping this trend, but a rapid deployment of this approach is required to realise, scale and open the mobility ecosystem further. When it comes to EVs, the adoption train has left the station and now we need to solve and scale all attributes of technology, including infrastructure, lifecycle, equity, profitability, shareholder value.”

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