Carmakers & Carriers Need to Partner on 5G

Self-driving cars will bring about a great age of automotive data that will give 5G cellular networks a key role within a few years, a Gartner industry analyst says.

By 2025, there will be autonomous vehicles on the road producing 4TB of data every 90 minutes, Gartner Research Analyst Jonathan Davenport told The Connected Car. Much of that will come from the many sensors AVs will use to monitor their surroundings, see and communicate with other vehicles and read traffic lights and signs.

The cars will have so much computing power on board that they’ll process most of that data locally. But they will still generate about 1TB of data traffic per month to and from the cloud, up from about 30GB per month for the most advanced connected cars in use today, according to a report by Davenport that Gartner published on June 21.

For mobile operators, this is a big opportunity, Gartner says. 5G will help to pave the way for automotive services that generate large amounts of data for safety, analytics and in-car entertainment.

Carriers should start working with automakers immediately to get 5G equipment into future cars, Gartner says. Though the availability and benefits of 5G will be limited for the next five years, it will expand the possibilities for self-driving cars where it’s turned on.

5G technology, which is expected to start going live in the U.S. and other countries this year and reach large scale around 2020, will come with characteristics that improve autonomous driving, Davenport said. Those features include lower latency to help deliver crucial data to AVs, plus greater network efficiency to prevent carrier infrastructure from becoming strained.

For example, the lower latency of the next-generation networks, which is targeted at a maximum of 4 milliseconds versus a typical 20 milliseconds for LTE, will let automakers and other companies send critical software updates or navigation data to AVs immediately. Low latency will also play a role in vehicle-to-everything (V2X), a set of features to let cars tell each other things like their location, speed and bearing to prevent collisions and traffic jams.

V2X will also let street signs and other roadside infrastructure talk to cars in real time.

5G will play a critical role when AVs run into situations they can’t quite navigate, Davenport said. In those cases, human operators may have to drive the car wirelessly from a control center. Remote operators will need reliable and low-latency connections to quickly trigger these handovers and deliver the real-time data that a technician needs for remote driving, he said.

Some regulators, including California’s DMV and Public Utilities Commission, are demanding this capability until AVs get better at driving. (Phantom Auto, a Silicon Valley startup, says it’s figured out how to make remote operation work on current cell networks through a system that can use multiple carriers.)

AVs are also expected to send a lot of sensor data to the cloud for things like keeping 3D maps up to date. But that data can be delivered over time and won’t need more than 10Mbps-to-20Mbps connection, much less than 5G’s promised gigabit speeds, Davenport said. Still, the added capacity of 5G networks will help make it possible for many AVs to send that data at once.

Big carriers are forming global partnerships with automakers, working with organizations such as the IoT World Alliance and the Global M2M Association to achieve international coverage without expensive roaming charges, Davenport said. Smaller operators can also get into the game, using eSIM technology (a virtual version of the SIM cards in most phones) to provide coverage in local markets, he said.

5G may also provide an edge to car companies in countries that lead in 5G deployment. Those automakers are likely to have the first crack at testing and implementing the new technology in cars — and developing applications and use cases — in their home markets, Davenport said.

Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.


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