Published in Transportation

5G Technology shift arrives in automotive

by on16 June 2021

Qualcomm remains committed to helping Europe

A week ago, Alex Rogers, executive vice president and president of Qualcomm Technology Licensing (QTL), was one of the keynote speakers at the Beyond the Mobile Phone virtual conference.

The event was organized as a cooperation of France Brevets, IMT, and Qualcomm and touched on interesting topics including 5G, connectivity in automotive, and intellectual properties related to Qualcomm's role in the standardization, research, and inventing processes that help multiple industries, including 5G.

5G is changing the world, and it has started with a fixed access point and mobile phone adoption in the last two years across hundreds of countries and carriers. More recently, it became apparent that 5G will soon affect many industries, including automotive, and we see that development happening right now. The automotive industry is preparing for the first 5G-connected cars roughly a year from now. Alex Rogers wanted to help us understand a few important key points about Qualcomm's involvement.

5G goes for a ride

Alex explained the technology shift in automotive that might not have happened so broadly, imminently, or effectively in a different world. Electrification, autonomy, and connectivity are transforming the automotive sector, and Alex wanted to talk about connectivity.

Qualcomm has been a player in connectivity in the automotive industry for decades, extending back to the 1990s and even analog technology. Today, most cars in Europe have eCall for emergency calls, and many automakers already offer 4G LTE connectivity, which has enabled an array of infotainment telematics, as well as hotspot capabilities and services.

In just a few years, Alex reminded us that vehicles would transmit more than eight gigabytes of data daily, an equivalent to the data generated by 20 smartphones in Western Europe today. Given this explosion of data, it is easy to understand why the auto industry is moving to 5G with its fiber-like speeds, ultra-low latency, and massive capacity, together with unique technologies developed specifically for automotive use-cases.

5G will enable entirely new capabilities and experiences for automotive applications. It will let vehicle owners to share massive amounts of sensor data with manufacturers to improve performance and reliability. This will enable new business models that enhance the relationship between consumers and automakers with 5G cellular vehicle to everything connectivity, or 5G V2X. Cars will be able to communicate directly with other vehicles, pedestrians, and infrastructure to exchange real-time information about road and traffic conditions. Cars will share their intended trajectory and location for more predictable and coordinated autonomous driving, saving time, energy, and reducing the number of accidents and fatalities.

Global standardization is key to success

5G will also enable new in-vehicle experiences for passengers and drivers that are richer and more engaging. The fact that the power of 5G connectivity is available to the European automotive industry should not be taken for granted. It is dependent on two important historical dynamics in the cellular industry. Global standardization in the mobile industry has resulted in a uniform standards organization to drive globally adopted cellular standards, not regional or national standards.

Standardization prevented regional and national fragmentation, creating significant competitive disadvantages for European automakers addressing a fragmented global market. Alex reminded us that we still face continuing efforts to “balkanize” standardization. We need to remain vigilant and ensure the ongoing role of global standardization. The promise of 5G for automotive exists because the mobile space has managed to maintain reasonable incentives for companies such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Qualcomm, to innovate, in part through the leadership of ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute).

This trio is among a handful of companies globally and has invested in the research necessary for new technological breakthroughs and cellular standards. Investment has driven the evolution of mobile technology and maximized the use of finite spectrum resources.

Qualcomm is committed to investing in long-term research necessary to shape industry standards well into the future. Still, to continue this research, the company depends on a reasonable return on IP licensing. Each of these three companies pursues a model that thrives on the broad adoption of cellular technology, not just in mobile but in every other industry. Each seeks to promote 5G broadly and enable its successful implementation in automotive and countless other sectors.

Standardize License Repeat business model

It has been fighting to continue this virtuous model, invent, standardize, license, repeat, and has overcome many obstacles, including numerous legal challenges. While there may be room for improvement, for example, in how the trio adapts licensing to other industries, the same challenges continue to repeat and threaten to devalue innovation in this space.

Qualcomm believes that it is time to step away from re-litigating the same issues and constant calls for excessive regulation. The company needs to support the future of the automotive industry in Europe and, in parallel, protect the existing competency innovation in mobile.

This can be achieved with reasonable long-term industrial policy objectives, including rational, innovation, and policy. It would be unfortunate if, just as Europe rallies around building and rebuilding technology sovereignty in various areas such as semiconductors, it allows existing and extremely valuable technology competence and innovation in mobile to be undermined and eroded. Qualcomm is committed to finding a reasonable industry solution to licensing essential cellular technology in the automotive space.

Alex also congratulated Eurocom IMT and France for achieving impressive results for their joint 5G research project. Qualcomm believes these types of collaborations will be necessary for building technology sovereignty and strategic autonomy in Europe. All of this leads to a phenomenal future for the connected European automobiles. The conference could not come at a better time. Matthias Schneider, Chief Licensing Officer at Audi, expects the first 5G connected car in the following year and hopes it will be an Audi. Most speakers believe that 5G in cars will happen first in China and follow in other markets, including Europe, the US, and Asia, a bit later due to more complex regulations and mechanisms.

Digital cockpit

The future is relatively straightforward. Qualcomm likes to call the whole automotive momentum shift a “digital cockpit”, a term that includes electrification, infotainment and self-driving paradigms under this moniker. There is no doubt that these three technologies are simultaneously taking over the automotive industry, especially in the European Union, due to very rigorous emission laws.

There is no better time to change and modernize the whole vehicle than at a time of big technology shift waves. A car, just a few years from now, will most likely be electric or hybrid and will have 5G connectivity, many cameras, radars, V2X sensors, potentially a lidar to enable smoother and more comfortable, and, most importantly, safer and efficient driving. Today, the higher segment cars have all of the above and 4G LTE connectivity that will naturally evolve to a better, faster, and more reliable 5G.


Tesla and a few others have proved the importance of over-the-air vehicle updates setting the trend right now. All this is easier with connectivity, especially with the speeds and latency of 5G. Infotainment today plays a key role for many tech-driven drivers, and the automotive industry has to adapt to that.

Level 3 and Level 4 self-driving vehicles will also benefit massively from connectivity. For example, the BMW fleet is sharing the data gathered with the connected vehicles with the other BMW drivers trying to offer its customers a smoother and less congested ride.

The automotive industry knows the importance of connectivity, but the term smartphone on wheels for cars in the future is becoming less accurate today. With the path to autonomous ADAS and self-driving happening right now,  

Licensing will Enable Better Cars

I still remember vividly that back in January 2018, Leo Jun, the CEO of Xiaomi, said that the company is committed to taking a license for standard essential technology. It likes the benefit that it gets as a Qualcomm licensee. The change of mindset was a break taking the shift of a paradigm for a China-based company, understanding the value behind the licensing. Companies like Xiaomi benefit from R&D that Qualcomm invents and licenses, which clearly reflects their sales. It gets that.

Anyone who has entered any tech company research facility, let us use Qualcomm as an example, knows that it takes thousands of engineers and hundreds of thousands of man-hours to come up with breathtaking tech solutions.

Companies like Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Nokia contribute to 3GPP, ETSI, and other regulatory bodies, while some companies don't contribute at all or very little. There is a clear distinction between horizontal and vertical businesses where one works to increase their revenue and market share. The other creates technologies and standards and offers them to all partners, enabling healthy competition between hundreds of partners.

Europe’s Automotive Industry will Adapt

The European automotive industry is being shaken up and is adapting to a new technology-driven world, in which a customer chooses a car for its infotainment and not for the horsepower. A bulk of new trends denounce a massive shift in business as usual strategy. Still, the European automotive industry was provenly able to adapt in the recent decades, and it will adapt once again.

It is naive to believe that cars will remain off the grid. Customers today expect that their car receives the information via data channels as fast as possible, helping them entertain, avoid congestion, or reading them the recent WhatsApp message and adding some new features via Over the Air updates. That is the customer expectation today. 5G makes that more manageable, smoother, and faster.

Invent standardize License Repeat business model that Qualcomm and a few others practice will greatly benefit the European automotive industry. And only Qualcomm can offer such a diverse portfolio of patented 5G innovations and products, including 5G connectivity, Snapdragon auto path to complete autonomous driving or ADAS, Vehicle to everything sensors, multi-display telematics, and infotainment. Many European automotive players have been in partnership with Qualcomm on some of these technologies.

The conclusion is simple. We cannot imagine a mainstream or a predominantly premium car in a few years from now without great ADAS, multiple telematics and infotainment displays, 5G connectivity, and over-the-air updates. Can you?

Last modified on 16 June 2021
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