In the latest development in the EU’s long-running debate on the preferred communication technology standard for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), the Council of the EU has rejected the Commission’s proposed legislation favouring Wi-Fi technology (the “Regulation“). Twenty one (of twenty eight) Member States voted against the Regulation; a result seen as victory for proponents of 5G technology.

 Lobbying pays off (for some)

The Regulation, once implemented, would dictate how CAVs ‘talk’ to each other and road infrastructure across Europe, including about traffic, hazards, speed and so on.

As previously reported here, the Regulation has been hotly debated since it was originally published in March 2019.  The issue of which communication technology standard should be preferred for CAVs – short range Wi-Fi or long range cellular (C-V2X) utilising 5G – has split the automotive and tech industries and resulted in fierce lobbying from both sides.

The Council’s decision to vote down the Regulation will come as welcome news to 5G supporters (including BMW, Daimler, Qualcomm, Samsung and Intel) who see CAVs as a key use case for 5G technology, with there being significant synergies between the roll-out of CAV technology and public 5G networks (see our previous article for further detail). By contrast, the decision is a blow to the likes of VW, Toyota and Renault, who have backed the Wi-Fi standard.

Technological neutrality

The fact that the Regulation favoured one technology over another has proved controversial throughout, with concerns being raised by various stakeholders as to the limitations it could place on the market.  Indeed, one of the principal reasons given by the European Parliament’s Transport Committee for recommending that the Regulation be rejected was that the Regulation’s favouring of Wi-Fi technology is not ‘a truly technologically neutral approach’.

This concern was also clearly at play at the Council level.  Member States including Spain and Finland had previously made clear that they want there to be fewer regulatory restrictions in the Regulation.  Of the twenty one Member States that voted to reject the Regulation (including countries with powerful automotive industries such as Germany, Italy and France), most cited the need for technological neutrality.

 Potential for further delay

Proponents of the Regulation in its existing form, notably the EU’s Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc, have long argued that Wi-Fi technology based on the existing ITS-G5 standard offers the quickest route to Europe achieving the widespread uptake of CAVs. However, the Council’s decision will require the Commission to reconsider its proposals and redraft the legislation in preparation for another vote later in the year.

Ms Bulc is clearly keen to avoid any significant delay stating that “we cannot miss this opportunity and lose valuable time to make our roads safer… we will therefore continue to work together with member states to address their concerns and find a suitable way forward.”  However, that is easier said than done.

David Coulling
David Coulling
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2442
Lode Van Den Hende
Lode Van Den Hende
Partner, Brussels
+32 2 518 1831
James Allsop
James Allsop
Associate, Tokyo
+81 3 5412 5409
Milan Baxter
Milan Baxter
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 6441