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BMW iNext to be first 5G luxury vehicle, automaker claims

BMW's forthcoming all-electric SUV will pack the high-speed data tech to enable everything from highly automated driving to streaming video games.

BMW iNext prototype
As well as an all-electric powertrain, the iNext is being developed with Level 3 partially automated driving.

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

BMW has just announced at CES 2020 that its forthcoming iNext all-electric SUV will be the first premium vehicle to carry standard 5G wireless when it launches in 2021. The production version of the Vision iNext concept seen below will carry the connectivity that will allow between 10 and 100 times greater data than possible under 4G-LTE today. The tech is being seen as essential to realizing the iNext's Level 3 automated driving capabilities, as well as next-generation infotainment possibilities like streaming video games.

The 5G tech, developed in collaboration with Harman Samsung, will rely on a built-in SIM card, meaning drivers and passengers won't have to carry a separate 5G device like a smartphone or a tablet in order to take advantage of the data speed. 

In a statement, the German automaker said 5G will begin to trickle into its other model ranges shortly after the iNext goes into production, "although integration will vary according to the specific model and configuration." Roadshow spoke with Klaus Fröhlich, member of the Board of Management of BMW, on Monday, and the executive confirmed the rollout, saying, "Every three years we have the next level of connectivity and performance in cars." Fröhlich notes that BMW already has 14 million connected cars on the road today, having started back in 2004 with the 7 Series.

Perhaps throwing a bit of shade at Elon Musk's Tesla plans, in that same official statement, BMW said, "5G technologies are a prerequisite for autonomous driving (from Level 3 upward)." Last April, Tesla's enigmatic CEO claimed the company would have one-million self-driving Tesla robotaxis on the road by the end of 2020. Tesla has not made any announcements related to 5G availability. 

According to Fröhlich, 5G will also allow larger over-the-air [OTA] updates, which will be key in the march toward self-driving vehicles. "In autonomous driving, I need high-definition maps on the run to load them, I need a lot of data. The artificial intelligence in the software stack of autonomous driving will be developed in our big data centers all the time. New situations. And then we will have remote software updates of significant size. So we can update the cars in the field having a Level 3 system," Fröhlich said.

BMW believes 5G is essential to delivering Level 3 highly automated driving.


Beginning with vehicles equipped with BMW's Service Pack 2018, Fröhlich notes that OTA updates are possible in all vehicle systems, but with limited size owing to LTE restrictions. "We are just learning with our 4G system how often and in which size we can do updates in the field. I have given my people one requirement: Don't use it for patches. Develop properly and only improve systems, but don't repair -- [which is not] what we see in the market with other competitors," he said.

Even if local regulations around self driving aren't clarified before launch to enable Level 3 driving, Fröhlich says BMW will push to launch the iNext in North America, and he does anticipate strong 5G availability across the continent. "I think I will offer the car whenever it is ready, because it delivers much more stunning features than [just] Level 3," he said. "It will have [our] fifth-generation electric drivetrain. It will perform like an M car today, but with electric propulsion. It will have a completely new interior. It will have 5G and the possibilities of streaming of videos. This car is superb anyway. It's a supercool car. But of course, Level 3 is one of the very important ingredients. It's a technology carrier, and I want to make it happen."