Why connected cars need a great network

From ‘over the air’ upgrades to software reuse, there’s no doubt the connected car industry is getting smarter. But this also means improving how operators and manufacturers work together to build this blooming industry. Mats Guldbrand looks at the latest developments and how networks play a key role.

Man checking the tablet while sitting in the car
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About a year ago, I picked up my Tesla Model 3 at a remote place close to Arlanda Airport in Sweden. My family had wanted to go electric, and at the time Tesla was the only viable alternative for us because of its charging network – it probably still is. Even though more and more electric vehicles (EV) are being seen on Swedish roads, the charging networks outside Tesla have a lot to answer for.

An industry on the move

Tesla’s way of upgrading and carrying out maintenance on their cars is renowned. One of the most well known of these happened in 2018, when the company updated the braking for the Tesla Model 3 just with a software upgrade. There were no worldwide recalls for malfunctioning brakes – all that was needed was a software push to the affected cars, and brake performance improved significantly. Tesla should have found this bug in its software before releasing any cars on to the streets of course. Nevertheless‚ the way it was fixed was impressive.

It’s not just Tesla that has had problems. Volkswagen has had software glitches in the run up to the launch of its new full EV, the VW iD3, which is due to go on sale this summer. VW is stacking up the cars to prepare for delivery, but obviously won’t deliver a single car before it has the software ready for release. Although it may seem like Volkswagen is falling behind in this area, unlike Tesla, it’s plausible that it wants to be sure that its EV cars have fully functional brakes BEFORE they hit the streets.

It’s clear that the car industry needs to improve its way of working with software. It’s one thing to release a safe and reliable car with working software, but it’s quite another to send new upgrades over the air to implement new functions and fix problems.

Over the last one hundred years, we’ve known cars to be ‘finished’ the day they leave the factory,  probably with no special considerations from the manufacturer to enable new functions after the release of the vehicle. I remember the car I bought fifteen years ago. I wanted to upgrade the media system to enable Bluetooth calling from my mobile phone. I knew it was available from the manufacturer ­– the main computer system in my car was exactly the same as the cars with this functionality. But no matter how much I pleaded with the manufacturer, they refused to do the software upgrade that would have made it possible. I don’t know if it was impossible or if they just refused, but I ended up buying a third-party solution instead. In retrospect, this was a better choice, since I could upgrade it myself and it was possible for me to connect my car to my first iPhone I bought in 2007.

The business potential – from the factory to the open road

Connected cars is one of the many areas that Ericsson invests research, development and offers solutions for. Over the years we’ve demonstrated solutions together with many different manufacturers, such as in-car delivery, notifications between vehicles (when roads are slippery, for instance), and even remote driving using 5G networks.

Today, cars can share data between each other (information about sudden brakes, for example), and are opening up more and more to data sharing across brands. By adding the information shared between cars over a mobile network (information that is not within line of site) the manufacturers are now further elaborating on the business potential and the new ways driver experience can be improved – this data can be used for advanced assisted driving, for instance. C-V2X, or ‘Cellular Vehicle to Eveything’ technology makes information sharing like this available for all connected cars, not just a single brand.

At CES in Las Vegas, we showcased what we announced in December 2019: our cooperation with Microsoft to build a global, connected car platform. Our Connected Vehicle Cloud connects more than 4 million vehicles across 180 countries. That’s around 10 percent of every connected car in the world. With a cloud solution powerful enough to connect billions of cars, across borders, we’re truly preparing for the next generation of cars.

We were also planning a demo at MWC 2020 in Barcelona called ‘The Life of the Car’. It would showcase our view that connectivity isn’t only something that happens when the car is on the road, but it starts at the very beginning – the production of the vehicle. Here, the car knows where it is in its production, what components to expect and to acknowledge as they’re mounted. And that’s not all. The car will switch its focus of connectivity the day it leaves the factory, and is aware of the logistics that take place from the factory to the buyer, either through a dealer or directly. Once on the road, it can enable functions like predictive mobility. This means that the car is aware of the network capabilities and can buffer the content it needs if it’s about to drive through an area with limited connectivity, or even suggest a different route to secure a good connection!

Even after a few years when the car is older, its connectivity can help enable ways to how best recycle or reuse its components. Ultimately, the connectivity needed during the active stage of a vehicle’s lifespan is only one part of the process.

The outlook: connecting manufacturers and operators

Our prediction is that by 2025, almost every single new car will be connected. A connection will be expected as standard, not only by customer demand. We need to work together with network operators and manufacturers to enable this. The amount of data coming from these vehicles will need everything from 5G to machine learning and edge computing.

At Mobile World Congress in 2017, we formed the Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (AECC). Together with manufacturers, telecom operators and tier one suppliers, we’re exploring what is needed from networks to meet this demand. In September 2019, AECC released a technical report on the challenges of traffic distribution (meaning data traffic, not city traffic).

The report covers topics like edge data offloading, mobility service provider server selections and vehicle system reachability. Networks are complex, and we need to make sure that we build a standard that makes networks for the connected vehicles of the future easy and manageable. If you are interested in the challenges of data for connected vehicles, I recommend you take a look at their website and download the report.

Since I got my car in 2019 it’s received 29 software updates, an average of one upgrade every 12 days. As I write this, it has been a week since I got an update about improving the Bluetooth functionalities in my car. Today, my phone won’t connect the handsfree to my car unless I sit in the driver’s seat. Before, I could hear my call being enabled in the car several meters before entering it, resulting in what callers would think was a dropped call, so they’d hang up. It’s a minor issue, but it’s easy to manage for Tesla with an over-the-air update. However, other manufacturers using the Ericsson solution can also do this – it’s nothing unique for Tesla.

Over the last 12 months, I’ve driven over 50,000km (that’s 31,000 miles), and the geek in me enjoys every software update I install just as much as driving the car. The technology that we’re working with will make sure that your car will also have the possibility to have an upgrade every 12 days. Because one day in the not too distant future, every car will be connected.

Learn more

Read more about our winning collaborations in connected vehicle ecosystems.

Read more about our connected vehicle solutions.


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