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The advanced telco tech research quandary, Part 1: 700 million euros later, what does Europe, and more importantly, European operators actually have out of 5G PPP?

Back in December 2020, Orange published a really interesting blog about connected vehicles entitled The connected car crosses national borders.

In it, we find out about a “relatively unexplored field of communication” called V2X, Vehicle-to-Everything—and in particular, the use case of how any potential self-driving cars of the future would negotiate crossing national borders.

The advanced telco tech research quandary, Part 1: 700 million euros later, what does Europe, and more importantly, European operators actually have out of 5G PPP?
Written by
Guy Redmill
Published on
14 May 2024

And when you think about it: yes, of course, how interesting, that would surely be something you’d want to know worked, especially if you wanted to push a lot of freight onto, say, EV trucks. So, looking at how to provide seamless and harmonised CCAM (cooperative, connected and automated mobility) services from one country to another using 5G strikes us as a very legitimate area of focus. 

One reads on to see that tests were carried out in September 2020 at a site in Montlhéry, France, that “validated” the 5G Non StandAlone and software network architecture required. (There’s even a nice video.)

Usefully, participants also found out that there’s work needed on 4 to 5G handover, and that really, you need optimal service continuity and interaction between 5G infrastructures from one side of the border to another. The corresponding service architecture also needs to be fine-tuned, so that it is capable of registering messages in different formats.

That was 3.5 years ago. But if you do a search on the Orange website for V2X, you see an autonomous driving piece from 2021, a generic piece on in-vehicle commerce from 2021… and that’s it.

“Crossing national borders'' produces zero search results on the Orange website.

Was it all a dream?

Did Orange just punt a lot of money into a nice research project, and then decide to do nothing with the results?

It can’t be—at least, for everyone else than Orange. V2X in the context of 5G hasn’t gone away. It’s part of the LTE standard, and there’s a lobbying group pushing a short-range 5G wireless technology called Cellular V2X.

But—and we’d be delighted to be told we’re mistaken—Orange itself doesn’t seem to have done anything more in this area. Maybe it decided self-driving cars were for the birds and quietly withdrew from the market; only it hasn’t. Maybe it decided that cross-border driving this way is decades away, so why bother “fine-tuning” the service architecture needed to support it.

Or—and we fear this is the more likely explanation—it punted a lot of money into a nice research project and then decided to do nothing with the results.

In this specific case, the French telecommunications company was a member of 5GCroCo, which carried out large-scale connected car trials along two 5G corridors that crossed the Franco-German and Luxembourg-German borders.

Again, there’s a lovely video—which, given this was a €17m, 44-month (!) project with 24 partners from 7 European countries, you’d want at least that to show for it. And things seemed to have been learned; that seamless service continuity on 5G networks can be guaranteed across borders, that an S10 interface is available, RwR achieves interruption times around 730 ms, which go up several seconds if the S10 interface is not available, and so on.

Orange put money into being in this project; the EU ponied up the majority of those 17 million euros, but commercial partners like Orange still chipped in the remaining 4 million. But of course, 5GCroCo is just one of a lot of 5G public-private projects that seem to have been fabulously designed, set up, delivered, analysed and results tallied… with not much happening after.

The thing is—it’s far from being the only example.

“[5G-PPP] projects generated outstanding results and achieved a large impact.” Uh-huh

5GCroCo was a ‘Phase 3’ deliverable of the wider (and now concluded) 5G PPP exercise. To quote its final report, the idea of these 5G Infrastructure PPP (Public Private Partnership) projects was to create “a portfolio of advanced European telecommunication solutions” that are meant to ensure “a large momentum and dynamism for the actual trials of these solutions”, as well as the further development of 5G systems on the road towards 6G networks.

A joint initiative between the European Commission and European ICT industry (as in, ICT manufacturers, telecommunications operators, service providers, SMEs, and research institutions), the aim was to deliver solutions, architectures, technologies, and standards for the “ubiquitous next generation communication infrastructures of the coming decade”.

Which we absolutely want and need—check. Over the course of its run, some 93 projects were funded, nearly all of which are now concluded, though 8 of these Phase 3 ones are still going. And, it seems, “[5G-PPP] projects generated outstanding results and achieved a large impact”.

Er… where? If—as the Trials and Projects (T&Ps) PDF we’re referring to seems to want to claim, if that’s just in the “various documents elaborated” by the work, like whitepapers, reports, brochures, roadmaps), “as well as in the corresponding project websites”, well—what difference does that make to anyone actually wanting to build a business around all this?

And oh boy, what businesses there could be. After all, Phases 2 and 3 were aimed to “extensively validate and conduct T&Ps” of 5G technology in nine vertical sectors--Transport & Logistics, Industry, Health, Media & Entertainment, Smart Cities, Automotive, Energy and Public Safety.

It’s mouth-watering to detail just what all these operators, tech vendors, consultants and Universities looked at in just a few of these: in ‘Automotive’, it was connected cars/V2X as we’ve seen, but in ‘Industry’ it was Manufacturing & Automation (Factory & process automation, In-factory tracking of goods and resources, Telemetry & Monitoring, Zero Defect Manufacturing (ZDM)...), Agriculture & farming technologies. In Public Safety, work was carried out in emergency communication, daily first response, rapid disaster response, public event management, critical assets protection and surveillance, border protection and remote area coverage.

5GCroCo had many, many sisters with similar nomenclature and ambitions. There was also:

5G-Victori (‘Vertical Demos Over Common Large Scale Field Trials for Rail, Energy And Media Industries’)—sounds amazing.

There was also:

  • 5G-Records (‘5G Key Technology Enablers For Emerging Media Content Production Services’)
  • 5G-Epicentre (‘5G Experimentation Infrastructure Hosting Cloud-Native Netapps For Public Protection And Disaster Relief’)

People looked at 5Grail, 5G for future railway mobile communications. Breaking the name format, which we can forgive, we also had:

  • Teraway (‘Terahertz Technology For Ultra-Broadband And Ultra-Wideband Operation Of Backhaul And Fronthaul Links In Systems With SDN Management Of Network And Radio Resources’)
  • Smart5Grid (‘Demonstration Of 5G solutions For Smart Energy Grids Of The Future’)
  • and Locus (‘Localization And Analytics On-Demand Embedded In The 5G Ecosystem For Ubiquitous Vertical Applications’).

The list goes on. We won’t—the point’s been made.

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