Are Commercial Fleets Lagging in Connectivity?

Graham Jarvis

July 17, 2023

6 Min Read

Most current data suggests that commercial vehicles are falling behind in the connectivity stakes.

Vehicle connectivity progress is most likely to occur in the consumer vehicle market, spurred on by 5G which will account for 23% of automotive cellular connections globally in four years’ time. Key to this growth is the high speed and low-latency capabilities of 5G, which are seen as transformative to these goals, requiring effective collaborations between automakers and operators to realize them.

In contrast, Juniper Research predicts that connected commercial vehicles will continue to lag behind their consumer counterparts. Only 20% of connected vehicles will be commercial globally, representing a small increase from 16% by the end of 2023. However, the research firm’s report finds that there will be 376 million units globally of connected vehicles in 2027, up from 182 million vehicles in 2023. The research firm says that most of this growth (91%) is being driven by the advancement of both ADAS and in-vehicle infotainment systems.

Not leveraging connectivity

Juniper finds that the commercial vehicle design is not “leveraging connectivity beyond simple emergency call features and basic connected infotainment systems, although this is changing, as businesses prioritize tracking and logistics capabilities”.

“Accordingly, the research recommended that automotive OEMs prioritize integrations with common fleet tracking systems out of the factory to maximize the benefits of connectivity, and to enable commercial fleet owners to maximize efficiency in their processes.” Nick Maynard, its head of research, says there are numerous reasons why connected commercial vehicles are falling behind. Firstly, connectivity in the consumer vehicle market is very much centred on offering superior infotainment experiences. This is not a priority in the commercial vehicle market. Infotainment and interior design therefore lag behind consumer vehicles.

He adds: “Additionally, consumer vehicles have seen a lot of focus on ADAS features, which hasn’t been as strong within the commercial space, except in the larger trucks and lorries market. Part of this is also that it is fairly easy to do key commercial use cases, such as asset tracking and route planning with existing 4G networks.”

Move in vehicle architecture

Chris Mash, vice-president of business development at Ethernovia adds that there is also the move in vehicle architecture towards central compute. Automakers are trying to reduce the complexity of their vehicles to allow them to consolidate their ECUs and they are looking to add features.

Many vehicles are, therefore, being designed with domain-based architectures, which creates complex wiring and software. The rest of the network is traditional, including ethernet, and yet it leaves the question about how the next generation of ethernet will enable simplicity and add authentication features.

He explains: “If we then take a look at how this works in a commercial vehicle, the customers we talk to on the trucking side are looking for ways to make their lives simpler by providing connectivity. Vehicle with limited autonomous vehicles don’t have the need for sensors. They don’t have the same requirements to download user applications. This where the lag exists, and so we see commercial vehicles being one or two generations behind passenger vehicles.”

Surprised by the claims

Despite this, Niels Peter Skov Andersen, chair of ETSI Intelligent Transport Systems Technical Committee says he’s surprised by the claims that there is a connectivity lag in the commercial vehicle space. “I spoke with a manufacturer of commercial vehicles and they think that figures are out of date,” he claims. That’s because the truck, bus and construction equipment manufacturer with whom he spoke said its vehicles are all connected. He adds that the connectivity is a must-have that addresses a need for increased efficiency, safety and profitability.

He elaborates: “There are also many manufacturers involved in research projects related to connectivity of commercial vehicles. We are talking about trucks, but when it comes to the trailer, logistic companies use connectivity to follow the trailer to do route planning and tracking – including where to park for breaks. ETSI members are very much focused on truck parking to allow drivers to fulfil their rest obligations.”

Connectivity in agriculture

ETSI also has a project that uses its connectivity standards for agricultural machinery, both in fields to improve the efficiency of farming, the use of farming equipment and to improve road safety when, for example, a tractor or combined harvester is on a public road. So, Skov Andersen emphasizes that it could be hard to sell a commercial vehicle without any connectivity.

As for 5G, Maynard suggests it’s a means to an end. It isn’t the goal in of itself. He explains: “While eventually the default will become 5G networks for connectivity as network rollouts continue, they are not yet at this point. Where we will see greater clamor for 5G adoption is with autonomous vehicle technologies, where 5G can enable faster processing of data, which is critical to its use. However, for use cases like asset tracking, it just isn’t at a point where 5G is wholly necessary.”

Ability to deploy services

Skov Andersen finds that baseline connectivity and the underlying technology does not matter with regard to commercial vehicles. What’s more important is to have the ability to deploy services and applications that will, from ETSI’s perspective as a standards body and regulator, work Europe-wide. He adds that coverage is far more important than whether the connectivity is 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G.

He explains: “The types of services we are talking about are unlikely to differentiate between 4G and 5G. The services tend to be about (live) route planning, traffic information, management of the truck and the service it needs, as well as applications that do not necessarily need the differentiating factors of 5G. When you look at it, there are of course also a need for downloads of maps, customs documents, and other administrative things, but having some kind of coverage is more important than having 5G.”

Market similarities

Maynard says that there are, however, similarities between the two automotive markets in terms of the relevance of 5G. That’s because it will be very “important in delivering improved autonomous features and entertainment services”. For now though, the coverage isn’t there. Where the commercial market differs is that there is more marketing value in selling a ‘5G’ car

To catch up, if that’s really what commercial vehicles have to do, Maynard advises manufacturers to prioritize connectivity as a core part of their commercial vehicle design. The vehicles have to become more ‘connected’, just like an increasing number of cars are. He thinks that commercial vehicle manufacturers should consider what use cases can be enabled by default, and how these can be standardized in the vehicle design, as well as easily communicated as key features to prospective commercial buyers. Moreover, 5G will play a role – particularly in advanced autonomous vehicle safety.

He concludes: “We anticipate that larger, long-range trucks and lorries will lead, powered by 5G, and that this will filter down to other commercial vehicles. Ultimately, the use cases will help commercial vehicles catch up – connectivity can provide efficiency gains, which will be of major benefit to businesses, so manufacturers will increasingly standardize how these use cases are delivered and provide access to a wider group of potential users.”

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