How software-defined cars build on connected-car concepts -

How software-defined cars build on connected-car concepts


The connected car is a core technology for software-defined vehicles, enabling a lifetime of software bug fixes, software changes and functional updates.

What follows is an expanded view of the connected car, the precursor to the software-defined car. I’ll argue that connected cars and software-defined cars are becoming inseparable.

The table below provides an overview of how connected cars and software-defined car technologies are interacting and amplifying each other’s capabilities. To a large extent they are redefining many aspects of the auto industry. The key is that connected cars leads to extensive over-the-air software updates, allowing software-defined technology to evolve to better functionality over its lifetime.

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A software-defined car consists of a hierarchy of many software platforms that communicate via APIs. This service-oriented architecture (SOA) is an increasingly favored software system framework.

The connected car is a core technology for software-defined vehicles, enabling a lifetime of software bug fixes, software changes and functional updates.

SOA requires a variety of system architecture improvements, domain electronic control units (ECU) and Ethernet being the most important changes. The switchover to domain ECUs requires increased OTA capabilities due to more complex and larger software platforms.

Over the next five years or so, an Ethernet-based architecture will become the dominant network framework. Ethernet will provide faster OTA updates and provide better cybersecurity.

Cloud native

Connected car apps are moving to the cloud, both in the development phase and deployment. Cloud-native technology is therefore having an increasing influence on connected-car software.

Software container technology is also becoming very important for automotive software. Software containers include application code, configuration files, libraries and the dependencies required to run apps. A container is equivalent to a virtualized app that can be ported to other systems.

Microservices are built as a collection of small independent service units and focused on dividing apps into single-function modules with well-defined interfaces. Microservices are encapsulated in containers. This enables a microservice to execute in a defined container runtime environment.

Microservice deployment is managed and monitored by an orchestrator. The workflow aspect of the cloud-native activity is called DevOps and is designed to streamline application development, deployment and upgrades.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, in that order, are the three top U.S. cloud providers. AWS is the clear leader in automotive cloud services. Auto clients include Audi, BMW, Continental, Denso, Mazda, Mobileye, Toyota, Uber, Volvo Group, VW and many more.

Runner-up Microsoft Azure lists BMW, Bosch, GM and Cruise, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, VW and ZF as automotive clients.

There are three important cloud players in China: Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud and Baidu AI Cloud. Alibaba is the leader in China’s cloud computing market.


Embedded modem technology for connected cars will be dominated by 4G technology at least through 2025. Nascent 5G technology is barely starting for automotive use. Connected car deployment involving 5G is discussed below.

Smartphone growth and other capabilities have made it important as a core functionality in telematics systems. Smartphone adoption of 5G is growing steadily, and are at least three years ahead of auto-embedded 5G. OTA software updates are often done via the drivers’ home Wi-Fi local area network.

The success of C-V2X, or cellular vehicle-to-everything, hinges on 5G deployment speed, and will have large regional variations. China is the current leader in C-V2X use and it is becoming part of many AV tests and trials. C-V2X will also be used for ITS applications such as traffic management.

Cybersecurity, software updates

All connected cars require cybersecurity, which consists of embedded hardware and software along with cloud-based services and analytics.

Cybersecurity in the auto industry is much more complex than smartphones and PCs for two main reason: dozens of ECUs in each vehicle connected via multiple electronic buses with different speeds and characteristics and multiple in-car and remote access points such as OBDII, USB and SD ports, keyless entry, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, embedded modem, sensors, infotainment or smartphone apps.

All software-defined cars require OTA software updates, which consists of embedded code and cloud-based services and software management. A recent post on OTA software has more information on tech trends and companies.

In 2020, the United Nations adopted UNECE WP.29 OTA and cybersecurity regulation. WP.29 applies to the EU, UK, Japan, South Korea and others—a total of 54 countries. They account for about 35 percent of global vehicle sales. All auto OEMs, selling into those markets must follow WP.29 OTA and cybersecurity regulations, showing proof of compliance to obtain type approval before sales are allowed.

The WP.29 regulation generally starts in 2022, and will be required by 2024 in Europe and other regions. The U.S. is not among the 54 WP.29 countries. Instead, it uses a self-certification procedure for each auto OEM.

Another automotive cybersecurity standard developed by SAE and ISO was released in August 2021.

AI Technology

Speech recognition and user interfaces have been the most successful automotive AI-based applications. They leverage AI technology from smartphones and consumer electronics for deployment in infotainment and human-machine interfaces. Alexa, CarPlay, Android Auto and similar products have been introduced in most auto models in the last five years.

Remote diagnostics is a leading telematics application. The addition of AI technology can help predict future device failures while serving as remote prognostics.

Both OTA software and cybersecurity functions are adding AI technology to embedded software clients along with cloud-based services and analytics software.

AV use cases are the most valuable and difficult applications for AI technology. Software development is poised for AI-based technology improvements. Identifying and fixing software bugs is likely to happen in the next decade via innovative AI technology.

Proposed AI regulations have been released in the EU and are expected to have significant impact in Europe, eventually spreading to other region much like the General Data Protection Regulation.

Business models

Software has been a cost center for auto OEMs due to expensive software development and lifetime debugging and maintenance. An OEM profit center is emerging around the cloud services model for automotive software. OTA, infotainment and some ECU apps are SaaS candidates.

Paid functional OTA updates are another emerging business model that makes possible connected car features and software-defined functionality.

Established data services have similar characteristics, with specialists Otonomo and Wejo the leading providers.

Connected car take-up rate

The next table shows which vehicles are sold with connected car capabilities. Each model has an embedded modem or an embedded interface to a smartphone, and many will have both. Data compiled by IHS Markit covers the U.S. and global markets.

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Sales of connected cars are forecast to reach 99.5 percent by 2025. The global connected car take-up rate is estimated at more than 74 percent in 2021 and will grow to 88 percent in 2027.

The global share of 5G connected cars remains miniscule, but will grow rapidly to more than 13 percent in 2024 and nearly 35 percent by 2027.

Connected cars with 5G will account for only 1.5 percent of vehicles sales in 2022, but are forecast to reach 14 percent by 2024. By 2027, U.S. sales of 5G-connected cars are forecast to top 52 percent.

Bottom line

The connected car is becoming an industry standard, at least in the U.S., as nearly 97 percent of cars sold have a communication link to the cloud and other wireless destinations. Connected car links give the software-defined cars crucial capabilities and features that will transform the auto industry over the next decade.

For that to happen, the software-defined car must evolve over its lifetime for multiple reasons. The first is that inevitable software bugs must be fixed. OTA software updates are the best and least expensive method.

Improving and advancing the capabilities of software-defined cars is the second reason. Functional software updates are emerging to create new revenue streams for auto OEMs and their suppliers. The third reason is software services and similar business models that require wireless communication links.

In other words, connected and software-defined cars are made for each other and have a bright future.

>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times.

Egil Juliussen has over 35 years’ experience in the high-tech and automotive industries. Most recently he was director of research at the automotive technology group of IHS Markit. His latest research was focused on autonomous vehicles and mobility-as-a-service. He was co-founder of Telematics Research Group, which was acquired by iSuppli (IHS acquired iSuppli in 2010); before that he co-founded Future Computing and Computer Industry Almanac. Previously, Dr. Juliussen was with Texas Instruments where he was a strategic and product planner for microprocessors and PCs. He is the author of over 700 papers, reports and conference presentations. He received B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University, and is a member of SAE and IEEE.

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