Vodafone's data network for V2X

After several years of development, Vodafone has launched the first commercial data network in Europe for vehicle data exchange (‘V2X’). What can it do, what other systems are out there and where might they take us? John Challen investigates

In a world populated by more and more vehicles, vulnerable road users and people, any improvements in safety are being encouraged. When it comes to transport, advanced technologies are now becoming commonplace, arguably to the point of overloading drivers behind the wheel with warning signs and sounds.

However, advances in technology and communications are providing fresh opportunities; Vodafone is one provider offering a new solution. “The Safer Transport for Europe Platform (STEP) is essentially a message brokering platform, based on the European standards defined for cooperative intelligent transport system capabilities,” says Bob Banks, technology development manager, Vodafone. “The standards were originally defined for the communication directly between vehicles on the road, but that requires different capabilities to be built into those vehicles and a direct communication in a specific frequency band has been allocated for this.”

What Vodafone is doing is adding the ability to take these messages from the different road users (vehicles) to others, over its own network. “Most people have cellular connection, whether it’s embedded into a vehicle or through a handset, so we send the messages that way,” reasons Banks. Essentially, they are sent via the Vodafone network into the STEP, where decisions are made on whether or not the information needs to be immediately passed back to other road users in the vicinity. Importantly, they can also be analysed in real time to fully understand what’s happening on the road (see system diagram, p26).

STEP covers all vehicles, but for commercial vehicle drivers and operators, it offers the ability to provide information and warnings about bridge height and bridge weight limits, for example. Of course, navigation systems provide that information, but what STEP aims to do is to provide real-time updates via messages, in what Vodafone believes is a more efficient manner.


“I would describe it as a complementary capability to telematics, which is obviously more specific to a single vehicle and its environment,” says Banks. “But what telematics doesn’t provide is that cooperativeness of information flow between vehicles. Taking the blind spot of a truck, if an approaching cyclist is equipped with the necessary capability, it can send information to that platform, which can then be re-sent back to the truck. It’s essentially providing a bit more of an overall context of what’s actually happening in the vicinity to road users.”

Beyond safety, there are also efficiency benefits from Vodafone’s platform, largely around the Green Light Optimum Speed Advisory (GLOSA) initiative. “It is designed to help a vehicle that’s approaching some traffic lights to avoid having to stop,” says Banks. "The idea is that if we can give early information about what a vehicle is going to encounter on its journey, there’s the opportunity to try and match the vehicle speed, to the point that when they approach the traffic lights they are green, so the driver doesn’t have to stop. We see that as a way of reducing everything from fuel consumption, to pollution to brake material wear.”

While most of the development work has so far been carried out with passenger cars, Banks says he is keen to engage with truck fleets to demonstrate the technology.

From an integration point of view, Banks says he would love the STEP technology to be a standard capability on all vehicles. As a member of the UK’s 5G Automotive Association, Vodafone has already had conversations with vehicle manufacturers about future possibilities. However, he realises that there are challenges ahead, and such a set-up might not materialise. “Obviously, there are a lot of vehicles on the road that would have to be part of this connected mobility capability through their cellular handsets,” he says. “That means using other software capabilities that exist today, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which allow the handset itself to be integrated into the infotainment screen.”

Whatever happens, Banks believes that the STEP technology can make a big difference in the commercial vehicle world – perhaps, for example, in helping prevent incidents around bridges.

He concludes: “We feel that by providing that contextual information, it would very much help prevent some of the problems such as hitting low bridges or going over bridges with weight limits in a vehicle that exceeds that limit.”


Beyond the efforts of Vodafone, several other projects are underway that harness 5G technology to help achieve improved safety and efficiency levels on the road. For example, Digital Catapult is responsible for the UK government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials programme. As part of the initiative, eight teams are working across a number of industries. In transport, a team is using AI to reduce traffic congestion and emissions, while improving flow and also evaluate switching autonomous vehicles from remote to manual operation.

Staying in the UK, CAM Testbed UK is a network of six facilities offering a range of different test environments to evaluate 5G technologies. Sites include the Millbrook proving ground, London’s Smarter Mobility Living Lab and Midlands Future Mobility.

Further afield, Australia’s Cohda Wireless last year introduced what it called the world’s most advanced V2X connectivity solution. The company’s MK6 accommodates DSRC, C-V2X, LTE/5G and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connections, giving developers and engineers the widest choice. The development of the MK6 included involvement in a 3,000+ vehicle trial in New York and Australia’s largest connected vehicle pilot, the Ipswich Connected Vehicle Project.

Finally, although most of the talk is around 5G technology, three UK universities have been awarded government funding to develop 6G network technology. The Universities of York, Bristol and Surrey will receive a share of £28m and work with companies including Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung to design and build the networks.

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