Tuesday

26th May 2020

Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in

  • A test of connected cars by UK carmaker Jaguar Landrover (Photo: Jaguar MENA)

The European Parliament will decide on Wednesday (17 April) whether to embrace a system that works on wireless internet (wifi) as the standard for connecting cars or whether to come back to the issue after the EU elections.

EU policymakers have embraced the idea of promoting cars being able to communicate with each other in an effort to increase road safety.

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Last year, 25,100 people died in road accidents in the EU, with the European Commission admitting earlier this month the EU is "off track" towards its aim of significantly reducing road deaths.

The commission is preparing for driverless vehicles to hit the road and has prepared a piece of technical legislation that will determine a set of detailed rules.

On Wednesday, this piece of legislation - known as a delegated act - will be put to a vote by MEPs.

The delegated act has as a special feature in that MEPs will not be able to propose any changes - they will only be able to adopt or veto it.

French liberal MEP Dominique Riquet is arguing for his colleagues to veto the bill, because the rules would give an advantage to one type of technology over another.

The two technologies pitted against each other are a wifi-based system and 5G.

The commission proposal is betting on the first technology.

Riquet said at a meeting of the parliament's transport committee, earlier this month, that China had opted for 5G, while the US took a "technology neutral" approach.

"No one else in the world has made the choice for this technology," he added, saying that he advocated for the EU to also keep all options open.

"I think it is reasonable for us to express our doubts and to be cautious about this choice, which I would recall is a significant choice," he said.

"It commits us for the future in one direction, which is one we will be bound by," he added.

"There are no really solid arguments for saying that this is so urgent that we have to take decisions in the current situation at the end of the mandate," said Riquet.

His German liberal colleague, Gesine Meissner, disagreed.

She said that if the parliament rejected the delegated act, a year would have been "wasted".

"I would find that irresponsible," she said.

There has been intensive lobbying ahead of the vote.

The GSM Association (GSMA), a lobby group representing mobile network operators, said in a letter to MEPs last week that the commission proposal "fails fundamentally to deliver on our shared goal to make Europe's roads safer and smarter".

It said that the commission's reassurances that newer technologies like C-V2X will be compatible with the one the commission supported - known by the technical term 802.11p - were ill-founded.

"C-V2X cannot 'talk' to 802.11p, as they are different technologies that use radio waves incompatibly. It is like putting a DVD into a VHS player and trying to make it work," the GSMA said.

Reuters reported on Monday that the CEOs of BMW and Deutsche Telekom have urged the German government to block the delegated act - which also needs to pass a pass-or-veto vote in the Council of the EU representing national governments.

Renault and Volkswagen however are developing cars that will run on the commission-backed technology.

What MEPs will decide in this battle for standards is hard to predict.

The transport committee voted on the issue earlier this month.

While French liberal MEP Riquet voted in favour of issuing a veto, his liberal colleagues Meissner, Rados Jozo (Croatia), and Matthijs van Miltenburg (Netherlands) voted against.

In fact, all groups with more than one MEP present for the vote in the transport committee were divided.

Divisions

Three European People's Party members voted in favour of the veto; five against; and two abstained.

From the Socialists & Democrats, 10 voted in favour of a veto, while one voted against it, and another two abstained.

French Green MEP Karima Delli, chairwoman of the transport committee, supported Riquet, while Green MEPs Michael Cramer and Keith Taylor did not.

There was also a national divide, with French MEPs voting mostly in support of Riquet, and Germans opposing him.

The plenary vote takes place without a debate on Wednesday afternoon.

The commission's draft bill will only be rejected if the veto has the backing of an absolute majority of 376 MEPs.

If it is rejected, the commission will have to come back with a new text.

This would mean the parliament will only come back to it after the elections next month.

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German owners of dirty diesel cars have received a letter from an official government body suggesting they buy a new car. But the promoted websites are all for German companies.

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The European Commission unveiled its "toolbox" of security standards for 5G - without excluding any specific telecom supplier, amid concerns over Huawei's links to China's intelligence services.

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