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How LTE is changing the world of automotive entertainment

1st September 2015
Siobhan O'Gorman

In implementing Long Term Evolution, or 4G LTE networks, communications operators have achieved the fastest ever rollout of a network standard. Its popularity is partially explained by our hunger for bandwidth, particularly in a world where the growth in data traffic is accelerating, driven by our thirst for streaming video from YouTube, IPTV, Netflix and others. In fact, video is now the largest consumer of video bandwidth. It's also interesting to note that the devices over which we consume data are evolving and, according to Cisco, by 2016, smartphones will account for nearly half of the bandwidth consumed, with tablets adding another 10%.

But there’s more to LTE than greater bandwidth. Interaction between electronic systems or nodes requires an ongoing exchange of data packets. When the data takes too long to get from one point to another, the whole thing falls apart. If you’ve ever tried using satellites to access a server over the internet, particularly using a synchronous protocol, you may have found that the average 850ms round trip, or ping time for signals to travel there and back, is too long for a reliable connection to be established. This latency is undesirable in any network and LTE offers a great leap forward over 3G in this respect.

There are now LTE modems capable of 150Mb/s download and 50Mb/s upload speeds, far higher than the majority of fixed network installations in buildings and high enough to carry four HD video streams simultaneously. Added to this, the theoretical maximum latency speed over LTE is just 10ms, below the level of human perception. With this kind of performance, the possibilities for providing entertainment in a car, or on public transport, are no longer significantly different from those in the home. Multiple feeds of streaming video to a variety of devices has largely replaced families sitting together to watch television. On your individual device there’s a virtually unlimited choice of content, and gamers can fight their battles over the internet with imperceptible delays from the time a button is pressed to the desired response being executed.

Once a vehicle is connected to an LTE network, ideally via an external antenna for best possible reception, it’s now relatively simple to connect to a certified multiradio module that will provide WiFi and Bluetooth, or both, throughout the vehicle. These short-range technologies are present in virtually every portable electronic consumer device.

Aside from being able to access free stuff over the internet, 4G LTE is creating revenue opportunities for companies too. US car maker, GM Chevrolet, first announced 4G LTE in-cabin video streaming in 2011 and it now features in over 30 of its 2015 vehicle models. The company expects to make $350m in extra profit over the next three years by charging for its OnStar online services. These go beyond entertainment to encompass emergency reporting, security, navigations and vehicle diagnostics.

Other vehicle manufacturers already building LTE linked to WiFi connectivity into their cars include Audi, BMW, Ford and Volvo. Considering how ubiquitous WiFi has become in buildings, it can’t be long before it's a standard part of in-vehicle infotainment systems too.

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