5G Infrastructure Alliance Best Hope for Driverless Application

A move by cellular infrastructure companies to push for global standards for 5G could be the technology’s best chance of running mission critical systems in driverless cars.

Launched by major wireless tower companies in Singapore this week, the International Digital Infrastructure Alliance (IDIA) hopes to provide a unified global voice for the industry. In a statement it says this is “a direct response to an urgent need for globally recognized regulatory best practice for the deployment of digital infrastructure, crucial for investment in increasingly densified networks”.

Why is this so important for the auto industry? It is because, while 5G lobbyists will constantly trumpet the technology’s strengths over existing 4G, such as a bandwidth that allows ten-times the current speed of data transfer, they seldom mention its main weakness. Well, less a weakness than a very serious frailty because of its use of wavelengths that are tiny compared to older cellular generations.

In essence, this means that while a 4G wave can, in perfect conditions, travel up to ten miles, a 5G millimeter wave will reach a mere 1,000 feet. This means that, in theory, a 5G communications infrastructure comprehensive enough to cover the estimated 262,300 miles of the UK’s road network would require more than half a million new 5G transmitters installed – more than ten times that functioning today in 4G. Even that may not be enough because the waves are so feeble that they can be blocked simply by trees.

So, the forming of this alliance is a major step forward for the auto industry to keep an eye on. It has backing too, working in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a private sector arm of the World Bank Group. It hopes to “avoid fragmentation in the regulatory environment and secure the long-term infrastructure investments required for sustainable densification worldwide”. Founding members include IHS, Helios Towers and the edotco Group.

The IDIA will be headed by founding CEO, Chuck Green, co-founder and former CEO and executive chairman of Helios Towers, co-founder and former director of Helios Towers Nigeria and founding Group CFO of Crown Castle. He said: “This is all about giving a global voice to the tower industry and encouraging infrastructure investment in developing markets. The cellular industry is going through huge changes in the run-up to 5G and growing network densification – both technically and structurally. These will lead to a sea change in the way mobile networks are built, operated and maintained, with new technologies seeing base stations deployed on street furniture instead of towers. At the same time, regulators are making key decisions about licensing, site access competition, infrastructure and network sharing.”

All fine words, however from an automotive viewpoint, the jury is still out on whether even this global alliance will have the muscle to meet the huge infrastructure challenge that stands in the way of 5G being robust enough in coverage to cope with mission critical functions needed in autonomous vehicles or whether it is destined to be a bit player as provider of in-car services and entertainment.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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