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Car2X: The new era of intelligent vehicle networking

Why wait for the 5G standard? Volkswagen is ringing in a new era of networked driving in 2019: Car2X and WLANp let vehicles communicate directly with each other and their surroundings – and thus operate more safely.

Is 5G the best technology for autonomous driving? That can not be answered today. Maybe it will complement existing technologies in the future, but it won’t be available for five years yet. But today there is already a platform that lifts networked driving to a completely new level. With WLANp, vehicles receive information in a matter of milliseconds from other traffic participants and their own environment, such as traffic lights at intersections or lane closure trailers on motorways. WLANp is a technical standard specifically designed for local vehicle communication. It makes it possible to transmit dynamic and temporary data in real time. Depending on the surroundings, the signal can reach 150 m in the city and up to 800 m on rural roads and highways. The signal covers a range of 360° and there are no ongoing communication costs. Car2X is based on a radio connection and does not require Wi-Fi or a mobile internet connection. “As no data is stored on the backend with local data transmission in contrast to mobile network connections, data security is also assured,” explains Thomas Biehle, Director of Cooperative Security and Electronic Processes at Volkswagen.

Car2X is no pipe dream – it’s the mobility of today

Accident centre: turning off: Car drivers and cyclists communicate with each other beforehand

Car2X technology in the first generation warns the driver of problems such as roadside breakdowns, the end of a traffic jam or the location of an accident. But also emergency braking situations: If a driver slams on the brakes or an automatic braking system is triggered, this also affects the traffic behind. With Car2X, other vehicles are informed of sudden braking maneuvers by other traffic participants, enabling drivers to slow down in good time. The system can also warn drivers of stationary hazards such as roadworks. Another scenario: If an emergency vehicle is approaching, a clear path must be opened up. But vehicle windows are continuously enhanced to keep out more noise and thus increase comfort. The result, however, is that noises are heard later. “With Car2X, the driver is notified that an emergency vehicle is approaching and from which direction even before it’s possible to hear the siren. This allows cars to pull over and create a clear path for the vehicle – which can save valuable seconds in an emergency,” says Biehle. Many other scenarios are also possible.

In the future, cars will communicate with each other even before entering confusing narrow intersections.

And they’re not just theoretical. Tests in Wolfsburg, Braunschweig and Frankfurt have demonstrated that these situations function in real life. On a main traffic artery in Wolfsburg, a test section was set up in which ten traffic signals relayed the traffic light phases using this technology. This improves the traffic flow by preventing unnecessary braking and acceleration.

The WLANp technology therefore also supports a sustainable driving style. Another planned contribution to traffic and vehicle safety is a function that detects pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists at intersections. Two Wolfsburg intersections have already been outfitted with modern sensor technology and can provide more accurate information than the comparatively imprecise positioning data of a smartphone.

WLANp has been available for some time already. The challenge lay in settling on one technology across Europe and across different manufacturers. All traffic participants have to speak a single language in order to communicate with each other. This unified communication, in turn, requires cooperation with other technology manufacturers. If the same standards are not used in vehicles, traffic lights and roadwork trailers, it is not possible to transmit the information. “We have to have a standard and a system that is used not only by Volkswagen, but the entire transport system,” says Thomas Biehle. Volkswagen has succeeded in creating an initial infrastructure in collaboration with Siemens, the Ministry of Transport, public bodies such as the police and cities such as Kassel and Wolfsburg. The latter is set to make the benefits of intelligent vehicle networking a tangible reality as soon as possible by becoming a model digital city.

In simple terms: 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G

The terms 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G are abbreviations for mobile networking standards, where G stands for the respective generation. On mobile devices, the transmission speed is an important and distinguishing factor.

  • Currently available in Germany, albeit not everywhere: 2G, 3G and 4G.
  • The 5G standard is slated to go into service in 2020. However, it is not exclusively intended for private use, but will rather be used by industry. The concept envisions even higher data transmission speeds than are currently achieved.
  • LTE-V2X is a bridge technology on the way to 5G-V2X and should enable direct communication between vehicles. However, the availability of this technology has been severely limited. A cross-manufacturer proof of mass fitness has therefore not been provided.
  • Based on the new 5G standard, the 5G-V2X will enable direct communication between vehicles and transport infrastructure. The standard is still in development.
An overview of the different generations:
Generation Wireless standard
Maximum download rate
2G GPRS up to 54 Kbps
2G EDGE up to 220 Kbps
3G UMTS up to 384 Kbps
3G HSPA up to 7.2 Mbps
3G HSPA+ up to 42 Mbps
4G LTE up to roughly 300 Mbps
4G LTE+ up to roughly 4 Gbps
5G / up to roughly 10 Gbps

There’s no reason to wait

Is 5G the best technology for autonomous driving? That can not be answered today. Maybe it will complement existing technologies in the future but it won’t be available for five years yet. Another sticking point is achieving full coverage. Only in Germany can these costs amount to billions. Whether the direct communication using 5G-V2X is a solution is controversial. "As the 5G-V2X technology is still in the process of standardization, it is not yet possible to predict whether all requirements for the implementation of traffic efficiency and safety applications will be fulfilled. Field tests must validate as the technology becomes available", says Biehle. Nevertheless, Volkswagen wants to use the capabilities of networked driving to make transport safer today – based on the already functional WLANp system. The frequencies have been distributed worldwide and the technology, standards and functions have been tested and validated by both vehicle and infrastructure manufacturers. Thomas Biehle: “If new possibilities exist after the introduction of 5G, we can upgrade the technology. But there is no reason not to make a start right now, surmount some obstacles and learn from the experience.”

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