The impact of 5G: How will 5G affect the automotive industry and mobility?

We spoke to Patrick Waldemar, VP and head of technology at Telenor Research, about next generation mobile networks and their impact on the automotive industry.

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In the second of a three-part series on next generation 5G, we speak to Patrick Waldemar, VP and head of technology at Telenor Research, about how new mobile technologies are radically disrupting the automotive industry.

Part one: What is 5G and what does it mean for our society?

Part three: How will 5G affect supply chain & logistics?

We’ve all seen smart cars. In Norway, the ‘self-driving’ Tesla car models are an everyday sight, topping car sales for the past three years. Many of the other car manufacturers are also claiming that their latest models are smarter than ever with computer-assisted driving and technologically-advanced security features.

What we’re being told by Patrick Waldemar, VP and head of technology at Telenor Research, however, is that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smart cars and the future of the automotive industry. This is all thanks to the next generation mobile network – 5G.

Smart, but not smart enough… yet

All of the smart cars on the market today have one big weakness in common: they rely solely on their own sensors and cameras for manoeuvre and navigation. The new 5G mobile networks, however, have been designed with the automotive industry in mind.

With 5G we get better coverage, higher capacity, lower latency and much higher data speeds. This will enable your car not only to stream Spotify on a long journey but also to drive itself, gathering information from other cars, pedestrians, traffic lights and even the road itself along the way.

To help visualise this, Patrick tells us to imagine our car talking to everything and everyone it meets. It’s being controlled by a computer in the cloud (or rather thousands of computers) calculating and adjusting our vehicle every millisecond of the way.

Our car’s self-contained ‘intelligence’ from its own on-board computer would only be present as an emergency backup if internet connection is lost, or to play a supporting role in the handling of the vehicle. Even without internet, the 5G capabilities of car-to-car, car-to-road, and car-to-pedestrian communication, would play an important role in getting us safely from A to B.

Extraordinary requirements from the 5G network

The 5G network is in large part designed by and for the automotive industry, thanks to organisations such as the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), which is backed by the industry giants Audi, BMW, Daimler, Mini and Rolls Royce in addition to telecom and technology companies.

The most important factors for 5G to meet its full potential in cars are:

  • High mobile connectivity capabilities, quick connection to devices and the maintenance of a stable connection at high speed
  • Low latency for critical road information and potentially dangerous high-speed situations
  • High device-density capability, as many devices will be connected at the same time in (or passing through) a small area
  • Security, hacking of vehicles and interception of sensitive data is a growing problem, and thus we must make the communication between devices as secure as possible
  • Extreme reliability is critical, especially for autonomous steering and navigation.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the 5G network and connected cars will be land area coverage and the associated costs. There are vast areas with roads that have little or no signal from today’s mobile networks, and the 5G network will most likely be made with base stations with a much shorter range than today’s 4G (and older) equipment. Clearly in these situations the cars would need to be able to fall-back safely to their on-board computer or, in some cases, even manual driving.

The move from level four automation (high automation) to level five automation (complete automation) will require significant infrastructure investment, something that those working in smart city development fully appreciate. In this context, 5G could even be described as the vital link between autonomous vehicles, smart cities and the changing face of urban development.

Innovation is critical in the automotive industry

Patrick Waldemar is adamant that even though the technology of tomorrow will bring amazing new capabilities in terms of connectivity, capacity and speed, it will not happen in a vacuum.

The automotive industry knows that innovation is critical in all aspects of business, including production, driving experience, and safety, thus all the major brands are aiming to develop smarter and better-connected vehicles.

To achieve this, it would be much more expensive and counter-productive for all the automotive brands to develop their own next generation wireless communications system. By supporting the development of 5G, and in turn defining the specifications that smart cars need, they’re speeding up the progress of 5G leaving the test labs and making its way into the real world.

We’ll see a gradual shift towards smarter and more connected cars over the next few years, Patrick says, and this is evidenced by the fact that trials of true 5G connected cars are already taking place today.

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