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Where is 5G heading within transport and logistics?

Bob Driver offers an inside view of how 5G is being used for smart junctions in the UK city of Manchester

If you walk down the street and ask anyone about 5G, the likelihood is they would associate it with their mobile, faster internet speeds and quicker downloads. But 5G is much more wide ranging than that. From manufacturing to construction and even the creative industries, there are use cases and benefits to be harnessed from 5G in almost every sector.

For transport, 5G can be deployed in many ways to benefit the movement of pedestrians and goods alike. As part of the UK’s 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, projects across the country have been exploring how different sectors, including transport and logistics, can use 5G, helping to iron out some of the challenges around implementing the technology, and proving where and how it can have the biggest benefits.

One of the key learnings across the programme is that there are very few applications which can alone justify the expense of 5G investment. Therefore, organisations must stack up the different ways in which 5G can be applied across multiple departments, or in the case of public transport, sync up with the broader public sector requirements in an area, and even private beneficiaries, to create stackable use cases and form a compelling business case.

Where is 5G in use already?

There are some great examples of 5G being successfully implemented across the sector, enabling everything from the streamlining off supply chains to the management of traffic flows.

Traffic congestion is a huge problem for the environment, for the profitability of haulage firms and also for people’s physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, the UN predict that by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and if pollution and traffic congestion continue to grow at current rates, the consequences will be severe.

intelligent intersections
5G could usher in the age of intelligent intersections

That’s why in Manchester, the Smart Junctions 5G project used 5G-powered artificial intelligence (AI) to efficiently improve traffic signal control by reducing waiting times at signals, thereby reducing journey times by 23%. This aligns with the eventual goal of project lead, Transport for Greater Manchester, to minimise pollution in the city.

Using 5G small cell networks lowered the project’s infrastructure costs and removed the need to mount hardware onto city centre locations, as well as supporting connected bus projects and other mobility based public services. Crucially, the system required low latency communications, meaning 5G, with its ability to offer almost real-time data transfer, was the perfect solution.

But to truly support investment in 5G infrastructure, applications will need to be “stacked” with other, similar use cases. But what exactly does that mean?

Stack them up

When thinking about stackable use cases for public transport, the layering of use cases may even extend beyond the transport realm.  Places like Liverpool are exploring the concept of creating a civic network, where multiple public sector use cases are stacked together including health and social care provision, education, public transport initiatives and potentially key local industries such as tourism or other regional priorities.

The same principle exists within the private sector. Consider ports for instance, which exist within a closed network environment and are prime candidates for private 5G networks. 5G connectivity can enable the real-time capture and transfer of high-definition CCTV footage for both security and monitoring purposes. But it can also enable connected IoT devices to monitor worker movements and pallet locations, remotely operate loading cranes, detect unexpected movements within shipping containers and more.

Whether it’s between departments or across organisations, the idea of stackable use cases is that by considering how to utilise 5G in the round, you can create a truly compelling business case. However, the need for collaboration between organisations and departments is often a key challenge. This is where organisations have an opportunity to make the internal structural changes now—even if it’s simply creating ownership for 5G—to make business processes and operations run more smoothly.

To truly support investment in 5G infrastructure, applications will need to be “stacked” with other, similar use cases

Collaboration is key

As we’ve seen, the transport and logistics sector is already demonstrating the potential of 5G but there are still hurdles to overcome. Creating the case for 5G will ultimately rest on the establishment of use case cases within organisations and the sharing of those benefits outside their own four walls.  UK5G has a role to play here. As the UK’s innovation network dedicated to advancing the adoption of 5G, it works with the telecoms industry and the sectors, like transport and logistics, that can benefit from 5G, to share learnings, best practices and actionable insights that ensures both sides of the ecosystem identify where the real value of 5G lies. It’s this process which will enable the UK to move from innovation and trials to early market adoption, so that we can keep people—and the goods we all rely upon—moving.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Bob Driver is Head of UK5G

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