The Auto Industry Is Excited about 5G—and for Good Reason

Fifth-generation wireless technology, known as 5G, is causing a lot of excitement in the automotive industry as elsewhere. For the average driver, though, it can be tough to understand why. Sure, it would be nice to have 5G speed to, say, download a movie from the back seat of a moving car, but is 5G really worth all the buzz?

The answer is a resounding yes, because the increase in speed afforded by 5G enables an exciting range of new abilities. Most prominently, it is the technology that enables autonomous vehicles to be developed by companies around the world.

 

Vehicle-to-Everything Communication

 

For autonomous driving to be feasible, the car needs to be in constant communication with its environment—in ways beyond what we normally think when we say a device is “online.” That term usually refers to a connection to a network. In the parlance the 5G Automotive Association—a consortium of developers of 5G technology—that kind of connection is abbreviated as V2N, for vehicle-to-network communication. But they note that 5G will also enable forms of direct wireless communication that will be necessary.

 

These include:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication: Imagine your car sharing relevant status data directly to other nearby cars—so that if a car ahead of you but not in your line of sight suddenly slams on its break and starts to swerve, your car is informed immediately and can respond before you’re even aware of it.
  • Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication: This will allow a car to automatically share data with intelligent roadway infrastructure. For example, a traffic light could signal directly to a car that it is about to turn red and that the car should prepare to adjust its speed.
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) communication: A pedestrian’s cell phone could alert a car that the pedestrian is on a crosswalk.

 

These work in parallel with vehicle-to network communications—V2N. 5GAA’s latest 5G protocol handles all of them and uses the term “V2X” to stand for vehicle-to-everything communication.

 

Fast and Reliable

 

These multiple data sources mean that an autonomous car will generate and share a tremendous amount of information: Analysts at McKinsey and Co. quote Intel as saying that a driverless car will generate more than four terabytes (or 4000 gigabytes) of data per day. And the data needs to be communicated quickly—it’s one thing to be annoyed about a slow streaming operation when its purpose is to watch a movie on Netflix, but it’s something much worse when a lag in communication keeps your car from knowing about a driving hazard in real-time.

 

The good news is that the current technology can keep latency to no more than ten milliseconds end to end. And it’s capable of transmissions that are 99.999% reliable.

 

The technology already exists, but it will be a while before it becomes widespread. Right now, the infrastructure to support 5G autonomous cars just simply doesn’t exist.  Active antenna systems and network technology needs to be put in place to create an atmosphere for this platform to thrive. In this respect, 5G is like television, which was first demonstrated in the 1930s but didn’t become widespread until the 1950s.

 

5G Where the Rubber meets the Road

 

In the meantime, automotive OEMs and suppliers are racing to find more and better ways to implement 5G technology to make the cars of the present safer and more versatile and the autonomous cars of the future possible.

 

An example: Last November Italian automotive supplier Pirelli demonstrated a product that puts 5G where the rubber meets the road—literally. The Pirelli Cyber Tire is a 5G-connected car tire that contains a sensor, processor, and communication system in an embedded disc the size of a coin. With it, the tire itself can instantly share real-time data about tire pressure, temperature, and tread depth as well as acceleration along longitudinal, lateral, and rotational axes. It also has the ability to sense and report water and ice on the road. As the company points out, such information is not only useful to the driver but also, thanks to 5G, to other cars and the road.

 

Pirelli’s new Cyber Tire is a 5G-connected car tire that can instantly and continuously share real-time data. Courtesy of Pirelli Tire.

 

Material and tread designs notwithstanding, the car tire is generally thought of as being comparatively low-tech—but even this humble product is being fitted with 5G capabilities that will improve safety out on the roads. And that’s just one part of the modern car. No wonder the industry is excited about 5G.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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