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When 5G comes to cars, we start to get invisible force fields

Ford and Qualcomm envision a world where bikes, scooters and pedestrians get wireless crash protection from cars.

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- 02:21
Qualcomm

I like former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's quote that "It's a bug that cars were invented before computers," and 5G seems to solve for that. C-V2X or Cellular Vehicle to Everything seems destined for many US market cars in the next few model years thanks to the efforts of carmakers, wireless companies and other tech companies in the 5G Automotive Association. Cellular wireless communication is nothing new, but 5G is the first generation of the technology that has been pursued so aggressively by the auto industry. 

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Still, many people are skeptical at best when presented with the idea of a car that relies on the cellular network to accomplish anything important. But 5G-connected cars won't always communicate through the cellular network; C-V2X also allows cars to also communicate directly with their environment. "If there's a traffic alert 15 miles ahead, I'd like to know that, but I don't need to know it with the highest degree of urgency," notes Dean Brenner, senior vice president of Spectrum Strategy & Technology Policy at Qualcomm. "But there are other applications where it really will save lives if cars can communicate directly and immediately and that's what this technology [also] does."

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"There's this term called vulnerable road users, like pedestrians, bikes and scooters," says John Kwant, global director of Government Relations, Mobility and Advanced Technologies at Ford. "We've done demos where we've shown the ability for a pedestrian to signal that they want to cross [the street] and the car acknowledges them and that it will stop." That sort of communication is a major new layer on top of existing sensors that already detect "vulnerable road users" but without confirmation and acknowledgement between all parties.

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As of this writing, US regulators are pretty solidly in favor of 5G for cars while their EU transportation colleagues seem more ambivalent and are leaving the door open to a variant of Wi-Fi called 802.11p that can do high-performance direct communications but must connect to another interface like 4G to do wide-area communications that 5G-based systems can do natively. In an auto industry that wants to build cars one way around the globe, it's an important decision to watch.

Brenner and Kwant shared many more insights about 5G-connected cars with CNET's Brian Cooley. Watch the whole conversation in the first video on this page.


Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal."  There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.