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Fostering the 5G Innovation Economy for the European Auto Industry


5G is about vertical industries. It promises to connect things beyond the smartphone in new ways and at a scale that was not possible with previous generations of mobile wireless technology. The auto industry has long been considered one of the frontier industries ripe for 5G reinvention. On May 19th, France Brevets hosted a virtual conference to discuss the importance of incubating a healthy regional innovation economy. The goal? To foster technological leadership in transformative technologies such as 5G to help secure a competitive future for the European auto industry.

The auto industry has been and continues to be considered a hallmark of a developed nation. It is a fixture of most advanced economies and has also been a centerpiece of the globalization narrative with its sprawling supply chains that stretch across the globe. According to the ACEA, the automotive industry represents 7% of the EU’s total GDP employing over 14 million Europeans accounting for 6.7% of all EU jobs.  

The future competitiveness of the European auto industry is at stake as transformative technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and electrification are poised to shock the global industry to the core. All eyes are on China which is the largest auto market and holds bold ambitions to lead the world in the technological innovations that will define the future of the car and transportation infrastructure.

In this regard, France Brevets is partnering with leading European ICT academic research institutions IMT (Institut Mines-Télécom) and EURECOM with sponsorship from Qualcomm to take on the challenge of fostering French and broader EU technological leadership in the future of an increasingly connected car.

The Future of the Car is a System of Systems

The evolution of the automobile into a smarter and more connected device is not a new phenomenon. Telematics and ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance System) have become a thing over the past decade. However, the auto industry has reached a pivotal point where increasingly accessible and pervasive AI and mobile connectivity are forcing the dramatic rethinking of mobility and transportation and the predominant modality that is the car.

In recent years, this next stage in the evolution of automotive transportation has been largely spurred on by the hope of autonomous vehicles and the promises of 5G networks that will connect cars to virtually everything and anything. The oft-cited reality is that autonomous vehicles are likely years away from reaching any notable presence on our streets and roads. Furthermore, we are still in the early innings of 5G deployments and feature maturation.

While the auto industry is used to putting the car at the center of its universe, a key revelation from the France Brevets conference was the notion that the future of the car is more than the car itself. The car is poised to undergo a fundamental architectural change that will make it one of many participants in a connected “system of systems”. This new model of automotive mobility will bring about new applications and services that will broker contextual, situational, and locational information between a wide range of elements and services that are part of a vehicle’s environment. 

A New Frontier of Auto Industry Innovation

The evolution of the car will largely depend on how quickly competing connectivity and compute technologies advance in affecting the architecture of the connected vehicle and smart infrastructure over the next decade and beyond. 5G is prompting us to think differently about how new distributed computing models such as edge cloud computing will shape the future role and functions of the car vis-à-vis the infrastructure. 

The future of the connected car is being specified by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) in collaboration with 5GAA (5G Automotive Association). 5G has brought about a concerted effort to infuse the requirements of the auto industry into the technical specifications of 5G. The conference highlighted the several advancements in the mobile computing model and connectivity technologies for vehicles that are accompanying 5G. Features such as C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) communications which originated in 4G have progressed with increased interest from the auto industry and frequently noted adoption in China. 

At present, more than 18 automakers have launched or committed to launch 5G in their products between 2021 to 2023. It is undeniably the future of mobile wireless communications. As 5G continues to advance with its mobile wireless features it will enable new contextual and locational data sharing services for augmented public safety and transportation management to start. 

The good news coming out of the conference for innovators and inventors is that there are plenty of open pastures in the frontier that is the future of the car. 5G and AI will most certainly force the auto industry to take a hard look inside and outside of itself and consider the car as part of a more integrated whole that will be automotive mobility and transportation of tomorrow. 

Global Technology Standards for a Global Automotive Market

The automotive market is a global market and an important export industry for many if not all EU member economies. For this reason, global technology standards will continue be an important mainstay where they exist and a valuable opportunity for cooperation where industry aspirations seek the benefits of standardization. 

Industry experts and representatives presenting at the France Brevets conference cited key benefits that global technology standards for communications would bring to a future of connect and smart cars.

  • Interoperability & Compatibility – A key benefit of a global standard for vehicular communications is interoperability. Cars would be able to operate across borders, networks, and transportation infrastructures and access local, regional, or global services for safety and driving augmentation. Global standards also make the vehicular systems easier and more cost effective to achieve compatibility across infrastructures and environments in different markets. 
  • Reduce Market Friction – The effort to standardize technologies at a global level requires competing parties to buy into and contribute to a standardization process. This engagement entails compromise to arrive at a consensus on technology specifications ideally selected based on technical merit. 3GPP is a great example of a global initiative that garners contributions from the leading technology firms and communications service providers who compete toward the common goal of advancing mobile wireless technologies while taking technical friction out of the market.
  • Global Reach & Scale – Global technology standards allow inventions and innovations to scale globally providing a worldwide market for technologies as well as the products and services that implement them. We have seen this happen with the smartphone which in a span of a decade has far surpassed the PC as the dominant personal computing device with over a billion smartphones shipped a year versus a quarter of that volume for PCs.

If the future of the car will be built on a global standard for connectivity, 3GPP will continue to play a vital role as the forum for global consensus and contribution. However, it is important to recognize the delicate negotiations within the industry and among the seven regional SDOs (Standards Development Organizations), which include Europe’s ETSI, the US’s ATIS and China’s CCSA, that has made 5G the global standard for mobile wireless technology that it is today.

Everyone agrees that the fracturing of the current efforts toward global technology standards would be hurtful for the future of the auto industry and other industries that are banking on 5G-enabled innovation. It would introduce avoidable trade friction, cost, and bring about potential market isolation or exclusion.

The Innovation Economy is the Engine of Auto Industry Innovation 

What should the European response be to staying at the forefront of digital transformation of diverse industries? The preferred choice expressed at the France Brevets conference is to compete through technology leadership and the global influence that comes with technical merit. This means that France and the EU member nations will need to collectively nurture a robust innovation economy that will garner the technological leadership to influence and enable the future of industries. 

What is an innovation economy? According to Alex Rogers, Qualcomm’s EVP and President of QTL, it is a virtuous cycle of invention, standardization, and licensing that drives the evolution of transformative technologies such as 5G and AI. As we have seen with the mobile wireless industry, the output of the 5G innovation economy is a continuum of essential technologies that continue to advance cellular communications and ultimately enable innovations across industries on a global basis. 

However, transformative technologies such as 5G and AI are advanced by big bets that play out over multiple years at the cost of billions of dollars annually. A vibrant innovation economy for France and its EU colleagues will require an industry and regulatory environment in which intellectual property is protected and inventions can be reasonably monetized to reward inventors and draw the significant investments needed to develop and commercialize essential technologies.

Implications for the Industry and Policymakers 

The collaboration between France Brevets, IMT, and EURECOM is a welcome fostering of a competitive European innovation economy. It will contribute to the global standards and enhance the region’s influence on the evolution of strategic technologies such as 5G and the connected car. This research alliance has already yielded results. Several patents have been or are in the process of being contributed to 3GPP. One such patent is for uplink signaling to help improve the management of downlink signals by providing enhanced device and contextual telemetry.

There is a bigger picture for governments and industries to consider. The implications of the innovation economy, especially for mobile wireless communications, on economic and industry competitiveness and innovation transcend the automotive industry. While the full promises of 5G are yet to be realized, 5G is already influencing the future of computing which will have profound implications on how industries and economies will evolve. It’s high time that the innovation economy be considered for its essentiality to economic and technological leadership. The future of European industries and economies will depend on it. 

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