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 the 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. 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.
5G is fast. Like really fast – Let’s start with the simple facts first: from a peak speed perspective, 5G is 100 times faster than 4G. This means that during the time it took to download just one piece of data with 4G the same could have been downloaded 100 times over a 5G network. You can just imagine how this speed is important for a connected car when it comes to the amount of data that will need to be shared.
According to Dr. Joy Laskar, CTO of Maja Systems, future autonomous cars will generate nearly 2 petabits of data, which is equivalent to 2 million gigabits. “With an advanced Wi-Fi connection, it will take 230 days to transfer a week-worth of data from a self-driving car,” Laskar said. With 5G, that time would go from 230 days to just over 2 days.
Lower latency – 5G also means low latency, as in a matter of milliseconds. Latency is the amount of time it takes to send information from one point to another. We encounter it everyday when we drive, and make a decision to brake suddenly: latency is the amount of time our brain sends the instruction to our foot to push down on the brake in this example. When it comes to networks, we usually talk about the difference between the 20 milliseconds of our current 4G networks to the 1-5 milliseconds of the 5G network. However, there’s even a larger difference when it comes to self-driving cars.
Human reaction speed is a bit above 200 milliseconds, leading to accidents every day. 5G’s 5 millisecond latency is practically real-time, which can be used to provide the user with additional safety information before it is visible, for example roadworks, fast moving emergency vehicles and visually hidden pedestrians about to cross the street. These cooperative Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) will help the driver to drive safely and avoid accidents.
5G’s increased reliability – Reliable communication means guaranteed delivery of time-critical information. For example, for remotely driving an autonomous vehicle in real-time in case its autonomous function fails. There is no other alternative than cellular networks for enabling such services. 5G cellular technology is designed from day one for ultra-reliable communication with low latency to enable complex machine centric use cases, including autonomous cars in dense urban as well as high speed scenarios. We expect adoption of fully autonomous capabilities in limited areas initially leveraging 5G signal coverage, with long-term evolution towards fully autonomous transport eco-system for maximizing safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
Exciting new case stories & innovation – Thanks to these three elements—increased speed, lower latency, and increased reliability—a whole new generation of exciting use cases can be unlocked.
In Europe, the 5GCAR project, led by Ericsson, is helping to develop an overall 5G system architecture. As part of their work, they identified a number of new use cases that need 5G to unlock the future of transportation, from lane merge coordination to long range sensor sharing and increased protection for pedestrians.
Industry 4.0 – 5G won’t just make connecting cars easier: it will make manufacturing cars easier as well. 5G is about to change manufacturing as we know it through secure and almost real-time connectivity that will result in transformative productivity, speed and efficiency improvements.
The car industry will be among the first to benefit. But don’t just take our word for it: ask Mercedes-Benz. We recently teamed up with Telefónica Germany to enable 5G car production via a private 5G network for Mercedes-Benz at the company’s Sindelfingen plant in southern Germany. Jörg Burzer, Member of the Divisional Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain, said: “With the installation of a local 5G network, the networking of all production systems and machines in the Mercedes-Benz Cars factories will become even smarter and more efficient in the future. This opens up completely new production opportunities.”
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.
So why should you care about 5G? Well, 5G connectivity has the potential to allow accident-free, stress-free and emission-free driving…and we think that’s a future we can all be excited about.
- How will 5G Affect the Automotive Industry and Mobility? – https://www.walleniuswilhelmsen.com/insights/the-impact-of-5g-how-will-5g-affect-the-automotive-industry-and-mobility
- 5G is fast. Like really fast – https://www.ericsson.com/en/5g/what-is-5g/5-things-to-know-about-5g-if-you-work-in-the-auto-industry