In the US alone, an estimated 20,160 people died in car crashes in the first half of 2021, up a staggering 18.4% over 2020 – prompting the launch of a National Roadway Safety Strategy, a joint public and private sector initiative to save lives on the road. In my home country of Italy, the government and local authorities are equally committed to improving road safety. This has yielded results but in an EU country comparison, Italy still has an above-average road mortality rate of 52.6 per 1,000,000 inhabitants – more than double that of Sweden’s of just 21.6.

New car buyers rank safety over everything

The seamless nature of smartphone apps has shifted consumers’ expectations for home technology – from streaming platforms to smart energy monitoring. In the same way, drivers’ buying decisions will increasingly be influenced by different Internet-enabled applications in the car, and how they will make their lives better and easier, as opposed to just the make of the car or what’s under the hood. When choosing a new connected car, features such as vehicle management and infotainment, as well as on-demand car functions – activating the air-con, advanced headlight functions, seat heaters, battery management – rank pretty high on consumers’ list of priorities. However, at the top of car buyers’ list of priorities remains vehicle safety and ease of navigation.

As around half of all vehicles on roads in the US and Europe will be connected by 2025, the transformational potential of connected cars will extend way beyond the cockpit. When connected to surrounding smart city infrastructure, cars will play a vital role in ensuring road safety and efficiency, helping to enhance traffic flows and reduce pollution, and improve city-dwellers overall quality of life.

woman on bike in city The challenge of making a car connected

The technology and telecoms industry has been talking for years about the opportunities that connected cars offer for automotive manufacturers, content and app developers, advertisers, retailers and local governments. But this hype has not yet converted into a connected car boom on roads. For example, only around a quarter of cars on European roads were connected in 2021.

The potential of connected cars in improving road safety and the overall driving experience is evident for everyone playing a role in the connected car ecosystem – but so are some of the challenges. The technology barriers that remain relate to connectivity itself, compute, data storage, distribution, and security. To illustrate, the volume of data processed by a single connected car is estimated to reach around 8GB per day – that is more data than many of us would need to use our smartphone for a month. How do manage the different connectivity requirements for different connected car applications? The constant reliability and bandwidth availability of some infotainment applications might be a nice to have, whereas it is a must for vehicle safety and assisted driving applications.

The solution: 5G edge computing

The huge volume of data in a connected car relies on an architecture with different types of connectivity. The car needs to communicate with other vehicles (V2V connectivity), with pedestrians and cyclists and so on (V2P), as well as roadside infrastructure such as traffic lights (V2I). This connected vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) architecture enables the exchange of all that data to not only make roads safer for everyone and prevent traffic jams during rush hour, but also to help drivers find parking more easily and keep everyone in the car entertained on long journeys.

A distributed multi-access edge compute (MEC) architecture at the heart of V2X connectivity enables car manufacturers to manage data transport costs and improve service availability and security, whereas 5G ensures that the high-bandwidth and low-latency requirements of different connected car applications are met. Simply put, a 5G MEC architecture shortens massively the distance that data needs to travel from a car or a pedestrian’s smartphone to be processed in the cloud and to instantly prompt an action.

Testing V2X with 5G MEC in action in Turin

To test the architecture, Cisco recently took part in a multi-operator live trial in Turin, Italy, organized by the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). Through its City Lab, Turin has built a reputation for advancing smart mobility through 5G by testing a range of innovative solutions, and this trial built on its work in this area. Together with Intel, TIM, Telefonica, BT, Stellantis, Capgemini and Harman, we explored how a federated MEC with V2X 5G connectivity could make cities safer. Our shared goal was to show how 5G edge computing could be applied in smart city and road safety applications – thereby demonstrating the real-world value of 5G.

The MEC infrastructure running on a Cisco platform was hosted by TIM and based on a cloud-native MEC solution for hosting C-V2X applications. As the home operator, TIM provided live 5G coverage to TIM users, with roaming for BT and Telefonica users. This federated approach ensured a secure and seamless ultra-low latency 5G edge experience for all users.

The trial involved traffic scenarios that showed how accidents could be avoided by enabling a connected roaming car and a pedestrian to communicate their exact location in real-time. The data was processed on an edge platform to identify an emerging dangerous situation – such as a pedestrian starting to cross a road just as a car was approaching the crossing – and send a warning message to alert the driver and the pedestrian. You can learn more about the trial here.

To examine further the potential of C-V2X and automotive IoT technologies, Cisco undertook a proof of concept with Verizon in Las Vegas. This test showed how cellular and MEC technology can efficiently power autonomous driving solutions, including delivery bots and robotaxis, while making roads safer. It used Verizon’s LTE network and public 5G Edge with AWS Wavelength, together with Cisco Catalyst IR1101 routers in connected infrastructure. Read more about the proof of concept here.

two pedestrians walking in city street with yellow taxi cab driving byWhat’s in it for telecom service providers?

These tests show how transformative IoT and 5G edge computing can be to making life in cities safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike. They also highlight that industry collaboration – between car manufacturers, telecom operators and technology providers – is crucial for building viable connected car ecosystems. As new car buyers will increasingly base their decision on how the vehicle will make their life safer, better and more enjoyable, it is paramount that different connected car applications weave into the driving experience seamlessly and perform reliably and securely, no matter what.

The opportunity for telecoms operators is two-fold: by leveraging their expertise in 5G and MEC and forging the right partnerships, they can become a critical part of new connected car ecosystems and generate additional returns for their infrastructure investments. And, by paving the way for safer cities the world over, they can demonstrate good corporate citizenship by using their capabilities for common good.

To learn more about how edge computing can support connected vehicle applications over LTE, like in our trial with Verizon, check out this white paper.


Paolo Campoli

Head of the Service Provider Sector

Vice President, Global Head, Service Provider Sector