BMW April 2022

The semiconductor industry has been investing heavily in the automotive segment for the past several years – and rightfully so.  According to Intel’s forecast presented at IAA Mobility, the value of the automotive bill of materials (BOM) will increase as a percentage of the car from 4% today to more than 20% in 2030. That amounts to an increase to $115 billion in less than a decade. There are few individual segments growing at such a rapid rate. We tend to think about this growth because of the electrification and autonomous control of vehicles, but as Qualcomm’s CEO Cristiano Amon pointed out in his keynote at IAA Mobility, it is due to much more.

According to Amon, the entire world is going through a “digital transformation”. For the automotive industry, this means that the car is a digital platform from the beginning of production through the life of the vehicle. And included in that transformation is everything surrounding the car, including the streetlights, roads, parking meters, and remote services such as maintenance, navigation, entertainment, and gaming. The car, for all intents and purposes, is now part of the cloud – a global computing environment.

This couldn’t be any truer. I’ve been using the internet and remote servers even before they were called the internet and the cloud, and I’ve always told people that nothing ever goes completely to the cloud, the cloud just extends out and envelops new platforms, which is why I’ve also referred to it as “fog computing”. In this case, the car is not just connected to remote cloud servers, it is becoming a cloud itself that leverages massive amounts of data to generate AI, shares data with other platforms and clouds, and uses data and services from other clouds. The intelligent connected car is essentially part of a federated cloud.

As Amon pointed out, every aspect of the car is changing from the control systems that are now intelligent to the in-car experience that is equivalent to what you would expect in your living room. However, this doesn’t happen because of more onboard electronics alone. It happens because of becoming part of the global cloud, and this would not be possible without 5G connectivity. According to Amon, 5G is essentially doing for the digital transformation of industries, systems, and AI what 4G did for the smartphone, it is allowing for high-speed low-latency connections that enable new applications, new usage models, and new business models. 

By comparing the EV/AV evolution of the car to smartphones in the past because the same technologies apply – processing performance, connectivity, sensors, and batteries. Yes, the car still has mechanical systems, but even those are changing. This shift in technology is the reason why companies like Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm are becoming leaders in the automotive industry, because they have expertise in critical areas. It’s no surprise that Qualcomm leads with connectivity because the company is the worldwide leader in wireless connectivity and has led in automotive connectivity and telematics since the beginning. In addition, Qualcomm is the leader in 5G technology, which was designed to efficiently connect every person and machine worldwide. This sounds very impressive when you put it in that context. Qualcomm started with modems in the vehicle, moved to infotainment systems with astounding speed and success, and is now moving to command and control systems for ADAS-equipped and autonomous vehicles. The reason Qualcomm is investing so heavily in automotive is because these systems has to be connected and work efficiently together to be effective, something the company has learned well with mobile devices. Qualcomm refers to the new integrated digital automotive platform as the “Digital Chassis”.

In the cabin, Amon believes 5G will enable real-time and latency sensitive applications like intelligent heads up displays (HUDs) or the use of AR glasses and live TV and sports. Even navigation can be brought to new levels. Navigation today provides reasonably accurate location, routes, and traffic advisories. Now imagine, according to Mr. Amon, other features like very precise location information necessary for autonomous control, as well as connectivity to and information from emergency vehicles, parking meters and parking lots, charging stations, restaurants, etc. Or better yet, imagine being told the speed to hit the green lights and image not just collision avoidance but having your seat belts and air bags react to external information about an imminent collision. Another key aspect that Amon also highlighted was in-car services and the fact that the car becomes a “service cloud” where the services may be more profitable than the profitable then the car itself. Think of how apps transformed the smartphone. Services will transform how a car is owned, used, serviced, and the entire in-car experience.

Qualcomm has forecasted that 5G will enable $13.1 trillion in global sales across all industries. Qualcomm is trying to enable these opportunities in the automotive industry in the same way it did mobile devices, by working with companies throughout the ecosystem to create open platforms. Qualcomm indicates that it is working with 23 of the top 26 major automakers of the top OEMs and many of the tier one suppliers, to ensure that they are enabling everyone in the ecosystem.

While Qualcomm is the latest newcomer to the command and control solutions they are the incumbent in the communications and the emerging powerhouse in infotainment. So, it’s clear that the company is leveraging its 5G leadership to drive the automotive transformation through the next period of the digital age.

By Jim McGregor and Tirias Research

Pics by Getty Images