Vehicular Hubs are the Mobile IoT – By Road, Rail, and Sky

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 10:18

The Next Wave – Vehicular Comms and the IoT at Large

In public spaces, transit vehicles, emergency vehicle interiors, and even in the skies, wireless communications are increasingly the differentiator that leads to a better transportation experience, better public safety outcomes, and more. Wireless communications in vehicles is not a new concept – ever since radio technology became available, it’s been used for dispatch, a measure of how critical in-vehicle wireless has always been.

But what constitutes many of today’s vehicular wireless installs is completely different in kind than what’s been used in the past. Rather than simple voice communications, navigation, or other one-off installs, wireless communication by road, rail, and air is increasingly a complex, interconnected system of technologies that allow more than strict communication. What they are coming to represent is a more sophisticated multi-technology manifestation of true intelligence consistent with the vision of the Internet of Things.

This conceptual shift has implications for systems integrators, organizations, and passengers aboard vehicles with wireless systems. It requires a shift of thinking in design, managing new levels of complexity, and thinking forward in order to prepare vehicles for the coming demands from a variety of stakeholders. In this post, we’ll look at some of the complexities of these new vehicular communications hubs, and what they mean for this distinction of vehicular IoT.

Calling All Cars (And Viewing, Tracking, and Sensing Too)

Whereas historically in-vehicle connectivity in public safety was limited to a handful of use cases (radio, navigation, data terminals/laptops, and more) the future of police and safety vehicular applications is only growing in scope, as are the wireless protocols needed to service those applications. A short list would include body cams, voice communications, high-def video access, facial detection, laptop connectivity, tracking devices, and more. All of this is serviced by protocols like FirstNet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GNSS, UHF, 4G/5G, and others co-located in the same vehicle.

What that means is more than drilling more holes and mounting more antennas to connect to an increasingly complex router system. In fact, many multi-port antennas like our Gar and Barracuda vehicular antennas can serve all of these connections with a single 2-6 port antenna to cover multiple protocols in a single low-profile form factor. What does change, however, is the need for a thorough RF modelling and an understanding of how these signals behave both in the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

For example, items like body cameras, which require more data bandwidth, may also need to have a high-quality connection outside the vehicle. The mount location on the roof of a vehicle, where the roof serves as a ground plane, can have a major impact on the performance on communications. Vehicle materials, such as how much metal is used and where it’s placed, can alter and change RF characteristics. And the concentration of these signals in proximity to each other may have an impact on the performance of each.

For these reasons, a quality RF model backed up by thorough RF testing is critical to getting these parts of in-vehicle wireless to work in conjunction with each other. It’s not enough simply to add new hardware on top of existing hardware and expect reliable communications. Testing at multiple stages of the design-in process is critical to a complete understanding of the RF characteristics of your installation, and ensuring that hardware performs as expected.

This isn’t just true of public safety vehicles, either. Increased demands on trucking fleets, cargo trains, and freight-carrying airplanes require a sophisticated Vehicular IoT system. This means collocating diagnostic systems, environmental sensors, physical security devices, temperature control sensors, product tracking capabilities, enhanced communications systems, worker safety devices, mobile computing devices, and more, all of which require a multi-technology wireless environment with technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, GPS, and LoRa. Multiport antennas like the Gar and Barracuda make the installation of multiple collocated wireless protocols easier in one antenna that is engineered to support such unique wireless complexity.

Vehicular IoT – A Meaningful Distinction from Legacy Installations

As all of these in-vehicle requirements expand and make way for the next wave of wireless designs, it becomes more important to recognize that the vehicles of the future are IoT ecosystems in their own right, which require new ways of thinking to capitalize upon. As established, it’s not new for vehicles to feature one or more wireless communications protocols. Dispatch radio in safety vehicles, Wi-Fi for consumer transportation, GPS tracking for train transport and more are well-established forms of wireless tied to transportation.

What IS new, and what bears its own distinction, is the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of multiple vehicle wireless systems which serve new, highly granular applications. A wide array of sensors, in-cabin Wi-Fi, navigation systems, dispatch radio, and more may all be designed into a single passenger bus, and each may require a different wireless protocol that suits that application most perfectly. In this way, vehicles are no longer simply outfitted with a wireless connection. In many ways, they are defined by the intersection and operation of a half dozen wireless protocols that expand the intelligence, control, connectivity, and functionality of previously unconnectable subcomponents. This is the kind of broad improvement that the IoT promises, and its inclusion in all kinds of vehicles is what distinguishes it from simple wireless installations of the past.

This means considering technologies that support potential future applications in vehicles, as well as challenging preconceptions about what factors are critical for vehicular wireless installs. For example, tall antennas that used to be the gold standard for vehicular wireless are no longer necessarily the ideal choice. Many vehicular antennas like the Gar and Barracuda achieve more with a diminished slimline profile that supports many different wireless protocols at once. And planning with sensor-type applications in mind, such as those commonly associated with LoRa and LoRaWAN, means you can future-proof your design as a true vehicular hub that covers vehicle-sensing applications that are not yet implemented, with minimal future changes to your core wireless installation.

Freight vehicles, which may someday be tasked with tracking hundreds of shipping sensors tied to their cargo, benefit greatly from thinking of the vehicle as a hub and designing with future demands in mind. The same can be said of shipping containers, moving by boat, road, and rail, which provide a huge opportunity to add intelligence, tracking, and logistical information where previously none existed. Smart shipping containers which track the contents of their cargo, monitor environmental and impact data, and global positioning data can add valuable, deep insights into the transportation of goods. LoRaWAN makes it easy to collocate hundreds of these sensors up to a gateway for detailed and granular measurement of shipping conditions. And where possible, that data can be kept up to date via Wi-Fi or even en route via LTE.

It’s these kinds of new and imaginative IoT use cases that will create value for businesses and their customers in vehicular and transportation applications of the future. To maximize that value, businesses will need to move beyond the mindset of simply adding wireless to a previously unconnected vehicle or environment, and instead think carefully about the RF characteristics of that environment and the many technologies that can help them compete and excel with new connectivity and data.

The Future of Vehicular Wireless IS the IoT

The time is now to start thinking beyond today’s simple wireless applications and expanding the scope of what vehicles can be, what technologies will serve them, and what can be done to integrate those wireless systems in a comprehensive manner with the best wireless performance. Cars, planes, trains, and more are increasingly as complex, demanding, and uniquely challenging as the most complex industrial environments. It’s critical to their future success that systems integrators begin to see them as the hub of many smart wireless devices and to serve the connectivity those devices need accordingly.

Laird Connectivity’s comprehensive catalog of antenna solutions provides cutting-edge solutions for LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, UHV/VHF, LoRaWAN and more. Our portfolio provides everything you need to provide comprehensive wireless coverage in vehicular mount, outdoor/sector, indoor, internal/embedded, and more. Our decades in wireless expertise allows us to provide the wireless modules and antennas that are powering the next generation of innovative IoT designs. And our antennas are backed by our 5-Year warranty.

For more on our IoT and M2M antennas, visit us on the web at: