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Vodafone ramps up V2X rollout

It looks as if Vodafone’s V2X platform is finally ready for commercial deployment.

The telco’s German arm on Tuesday announced that its Safer Transport for Europe Platform (STEP) is now available to vehicle manufacturers and transport authorities. Based on the open standards-based Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication protocol, it uses a publish/subscribe mechanism to enable the transmission of telemetry data between different devices. When this is coupled with multi-access edge computing (MEC) and 5G, the result is a system that can share safety and traffic information to cars, smartphones and navigation systems in real time.

Vodafone first revealed it was developing an open V2X platform back in November 2021. It was unveiled in the UK as STEP in March, and the telco said it would be made available to developers later this year. True to its word, Vodafone said on Tuesday that STEP is now accessible via a straightforward registration process. It has also made available a detailed API and software development kit (SDK) for Android and iOS developers.

“Improving road safety is a major challenge,” said Michael Reinartz, head of innovation at Vodafone Germany, in a statement. “Open platforms for faster and more efficient data exchange can make an important contribution to preventing the unnecessary deaths and injuries that we record on our roads every year.”

Indeed, Vodafone said there were more than 2,400 fatal road accidents in Germany last year, or about 290 per 100,000 people. That’s better than the EU’s overall fatal accident rate of around 400 per 100,000, but there is still room for improvement, obviously. Excluding 2020, when the pandemic meant people were travelling less, the fatal accident rate is falling year-on-year. But telcos and their partners in the automotive industry think V2X and platforms like STEP can help lower the rate more quickly.

“STEP enables the provision of important safety information for all road users and promotes the necessary cooperation between traffic authorities, app developers and the automotive industry to make Germany’s roads safer,” Reinartz said.

For example, traffic authorities, vehicle manufacturers, mobility service providers and other mobile network operators can use STEP and 5G to transmit important traffic information about lane closures, speed limits or traffic disruptions, said Voda. Looking further ahead, drivers of buses and trucks could be made aware of cyclists or pedestrians who are near or in their blind spot. And in combination with cameras, radar and LiDAR sensors, V2X could also one day facilitate the automated driving of truck convoys on freeways.

However, while platforms like STEP are an important piece of the puzzle, the automotive ecosystem is large and complex – and heavily regulated – which means change takes time.

According to a research note published last week by ABI Research, it is thought that the inclusion of V2X in the all-important Euro NCAP safety rating scheme for new vehicles will be pushed back from 2025 to 2027. This is due to a lack of sufficient testing protocols, such as new labs that can evaluate new vehicle capabilities, it said. While that doesn’t mean players like Vodafone can’t push on with incorporating V2X-enabled information services into smartphone apps and navigation systems, it will be some time before the really cool stuff – vehicles automatically interacting with other road users and so-called street furniture and so-on – takes off.

“The crucial market driver for mass adoption will be the V2X inclusion in the Euro NCAP scoring,” said Maite Bezerra, smart mobility and automotive industry analyst at ABI Research. Until then, the lack of NCAP inclusion will “delay the take-off of the technology even further,” she said.

There are no such delays in China though, where V2X is already included in its NCAP scheme. As a result, ABI reckons China will overtake Europe in 2023 to become the region that boasts the largest fleet of short-range V2X-enabled vehicles.

Despite these delays, the potential of V2X to increase safety, and reduce congestion and emissions means it is worth persevering, said ABI.

“The long wait for mass adoption should not discourage interest in the technology,” said Bezerra. “Instead, it should motivate players to leverage the sizeable installed base of vehicles and infrastructure with embedded cellular connectivity. This will deliver immediate value through basic V2X services that do not rely on low latency and can greatly increase driver awareness scopes, such as road, traffic, traffic-light, and weather hazard alerts and information.”

 

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