5G Ultra Wideband and the connected city: An interview with Sean Harrington

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Chris Ashraf

Verizon’s Vice President of City Solutions discusses the remarkable impact of next-generation network technology at street level.

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As Verizon’s Vice President of City Solutions, Sean Harrington spends a lot of time imagining what he calls the “second-generation smart community.” This describes a city that harnesses the power of 5G Ultra Wideband to transform its operations and improve the lives of its citizens. Verizon’s 4G LTE-based smart community solutions are already making intersections less hazardous and traffic-clogged arteries less congested. The evolution of that work is now coming into view, and Harrington’s team is at the forefront of the change.

Here, Harrington goes deep on the potential traffic innovations that will be enabled by 5G Ultra Wideband—innovations that will have a massive impact on public safety, citizen engagement and sustainability. Ultimately, the goal is to harness the benefits of 5G Ultra Wideband to push innovations that benefit the environment, distribute resources when and where they’re needed most, and prevent needless death and injury.

How might Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband benefit municipal transportation?

As we make the transition to next-generation mobility, and as more connected modes of transportation move through cities, much more data will need to be processed.

Existing 4G technology already allows us to process data pertaining to movement of vehicles—scooters, shared bikes, rideshare vehicles, etc. But some of the data collection and processing is much more sophisticated, like using video cameras at intersections to detect and classify the movement of buses, bikes and pedestrians.

That sophisticated machine learning has to be leveraged in real time, and be accessible in a centralized way. The network is critical for moving raw data from infrastructure to a central processing place and then sending metadata back again. As bandwidth demands and the need for time-critical responses increases, 5G Ultra Wideband becomes extraordinarily important.

What role might 5G Ultra Wideband play in increasing safety on streets?

It’s about real-time situational awareness. Automated braking in connected vehicles is a good example. A car is moving through an intersection, and the driver doesn’t see a pedestrian in the crosswalk ahead. Alerting that vehicle in time to prevent an accident requires ultra-low-latency response.

As bandwidth demands and the need for time-critical responses increases, 5G Ultra Wideband becomes extraordinarily important.

—Sean Harrington, Verizon Vice President of City Solutions

The same goes for extending green lights in what we call a “dilemma zone incident.” Imagine a large vehicle approaching an intersection as the light turns from green to yellow. The driver must make an instantaneous decision to aggressively brake, which can cause accidents, or proceed—and in some cases accelerate—through a partial red light.

If that scenario can be detected in real time, the traffic light can remain green a second longer. Essentially, what becomes possible over 5G Ultra Wideband is the construction of a parallel 3D vantage, presenting what’s happening in and around an intersection at all times. With low latency, many cars can communicate with each other and act accordingly, faster than you can blink your eye.

How will 5G Ultra Wideband impact cities’ existing sensor technology?

Let’s just look at signal timing first. Right now, cities might measure traffic flow in different parts of the city once a year and make some adjustments. With 5G, you can do a heck of a lot better. The higher bandwidths will allow the processing of raw video with computer vision analytics at the edge of the network.

With the advent of 5G Ultra Wideband, we can expect more meaningful, actionable insights to come from an intricately connected network of sensors outputting data at unprecedented rates.​ ​Today’s connected devices are already enabling improvement in the spheres of public safety, sustainability and quality of life. With 5G, the good we’ll be able to achieve is only going to multiply.

Everyone’s talking about autonomous vehicles. What is 5G Ultra Wideband’s potential impact there?

Autonomous mobility will only achieve its full potential with low latency communication between vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure, and 5G Ultra Wideband is game-changing to support this vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. 5G UWB is hands down the most promising technology to provide the opportunity for vehicles to communicate with each other and city infrastructure in ways that will increase traveler safety and reduce the risk of accidents with other road users.

The sensors will need to communicate with traffic signals while simultaneously seeing, rendering, computing and analyzing live camera images from all angles of the vehicle. That processing power alone is ​substantial.​ To give it some context, Twitter currently has 270 million users who generate about 100 gigabytes of data per day. A single autonomous vehicle will produce 3,000 times that amount. That’s 30 terabytes of data per day, for ​one​ device. For safety, maintenance and congestion-management purposes, 5G Ultra Wideband is essential.

What steps should be taken today to bring about second-generation smart communities?

First, companies and municipalities need to work together. ​One of the most exciting things about smart communities is the opportunity for governments and technology innovators to come together to solve problems. Thought leaders in cities can leverage the resources and capital of the private sector to implement solutions to the problems that are priorities in their municipalities, and corporations have the benefit of launching their technology solutions that can later become monetized.

Second, municipalities need to begin investing in the network infrastructure. Simply put, cities that tap into 5G Ultra Wideband connectivity will be better equipped to drive improvements in public safety, transit, utilities, public Wi-Fi access and emergency preparedness—all the things that make their communities function optimally. And a​s cities search for the next big way to attract and retain talent, 5G Ultra Wideband and other smart technologies and infrastructure will be as much an attractor as great schools, a thriving arts scene, shopping and restaurants.

As we deploy 5G Ultra Wideband, we’re encouraging local residents, community organizations, businesses and others to help us. Let’s 5G! is a simple, powerful platform created to provide easy-to-digest information about 5G Ultra Wideband, while also connecting local residents and businesses to their elected officials who are making decisions about local 5G deployments. It’s an opportunity for anyone who wants to be part of this revolution to join us to help in the roll-out of the next generation of wireless technology. 

Honestly, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we’ll be able to accomplish in the second-generation smart community. 5G Ultra Wideband is going to be transformational.

Learn more about Verizon’s plans for bringing 5G technology to our customers


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