COMMENT: 5G is the key that will unlock automotive autonomy

Autonomous vehicles need reliable, high-speed connectivity – that’s where 5G comes in, writes Josh Wickham

5G is coming – this much we know. But implemented correctly, the speed and reliability of this fifth-generation telecommunications technology will help expedite the mainstream adoption of self-driving vehicles.

The next generation of cellular technology promises data transfer speeds that are hundreds of times faster than 4G can offer, and the first countries likely to launch the upgraded network are China, South Korea and the US.

Meanwhile, automakers see a huge number of potential applications for 5G, and chief among them is high-level vehicle autonomy. For driverless technology, which needs the capacity to operate with minimal latency and maximum reliability, 5G is the ideal candidate for enabling safe and stable functioning.

5G also promises to benefit drivers’ day-to-day lives – faster connectivity means a better flow of information, which could lead to commuters spending less time in traffic, reducing stress, improving productivity and delivering associated environmental benefits

The term V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) refers to a vehicle’s ability to communicate with its surroundings, including other vehicles. The speed at which a vehicle is able to complete these operations will determine how quickly it can react to danger.

For a long time, the only viable candidate for this role was digital short-range communication (DSRC), a Wi-Fi-based communications system. However, because of the importance of 5G for autonomous vehicles, despite a decade of testing, it is possible that DSRC will be snubbed in favour of C-V2X, which, unlike DSRC, is cellular-based and ready for 5G. As the two technologies are not interoperable, it is crucial that only one becomes the industry standard, so the progress of autonomous technology appears to hinge on governments ruling favouring either DSRC or C-V2X.

These communication technologies are safety-oriented, with considerable potential to increase driver awareness. As a result, the standard technology selected should be whichever can best fulfil this role. Based on this logic, C-V2X is the obvious choice, as it promises to be faster and far more reliable than DSRC. However, as it is a relatively new technology, C-V2X may require a lengthier testing and preparation phase than DSRC before it is ready for mass deployment. For the time being, then, DSRC may be the best option.

For driverless technology, which needs the capacity to operate with minimal latency and maximum reliability, 5G is the ideal candidate for enabling safe and stable functioning

Even if DSRC becomes the standard communication technology, eventually it will need to be replaced by something that can utilise 5G. This is especially true for higher levels of autonomy, where a driver is not involved. Such an advanced stage of vehicle autonomy will not be able to function safely and reliably without a 5G level of communication processing the data.

However, in addition to offering enhancements to safety, 5G also promises to benefit drivers’ day-to-day lives – faster connectivity means a better flow of information, which could lead to commuters spending less time in traffic, reducing stress, improving productivity and delivering associated environmental benefits.

However, the advantages of 5G do not stop there; 5G has the potential to evolve the automotive experience in a number of other ways. To learn more about the role of next-generation telecommunications in the future of the automotive industry, download Automotive World’s Special report: 5G and the autonomous vehicle.

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