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The 5G car:
Why 5G plays
a critical role
in autonomous
vehicle technology

Author: Shane Schick

We all might appreciate having GPS and backup cameras in our vehicles today, but the rise of the 5G car is expected to put transportation improvements into high gear.

When we talk about the idea of a 5G car, we're really referring to the use of the latest network standards in self-driving vehicles. This could include connected cars, in which parking and guidance are handled through automation while drivers still have ultimate control. Then, there are autonomous vehicles, where all essential decision-making is handled by the car itself.

Both connected and autonomous cars could lead to enormous efficiencies on the road and boost safety across transportation systems. Getting to that point, however, will require sophisticated capabilities to process data accurately and with incredible speed. In that sense, 5G—along with mobile edge computing (MEC)—are expected to fuel self-driving success.

Why the time for a 5G automobile is now

No matter where someone drives or rides in their car, enormous amounts of information are being generated along the way. Traffic signals, changes in route conditions and data about the state of the vehicle as it moves are just a few examples.

Connected or autonomous vehicles depend on not only harnessing these large volumes of data but also leveraging real time insight and historical analysis regarding traffic flow to determine the next best action they should take on behalf of drivers and passengers. This might normally have required automakers to squeeze high-powered computers in with the engine and other parts of a car. 5G and MEC offer an alternative and more cost-effective solution.

How a 5G car works

5G networks offer the potential for ultra-fast speeds, low latency and massive capacity. Using 5G to transmit, and a local MEC to process, data enables the low end-to-end latency needed to respond to unexpected changes in traffic or the movement of pedestrians, or to get out of the way of an oncoming emergency vehicle.

For companies that run not just one 5G car but an entire fleet, 5G and MEC could potentially make it easier to monitor and analyze performance and allow completely remote driving. The same technologies can also allow faster and easier sharing of data for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, as well as sharing data with other devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Autonomous vehicles: 5G can improve the driver experience

Completely autonomous vehicles will involve developing applications that continuously learn and optimize how a 5G car performs. Fortunately, 5G's benefits also include the ability to handle multiple streams of data simultaneously. As a result, 5G could help alleviate network congestion by providing more bandwidth.

This is critical when you consider that connected or autonomous vehicles need to communicate not only with each other but with intelligent traffic systems, service providers and even pedestrians who are getting ready to cross the street. Those riding in self-driving vehicles, meanwhile, will be able to enjoy in-car entertainment and faster connectivity to their tablets and smartphones.

5G could also allow automakers to issue software updates and patches for vehicles, much like we see with smartphones and PCs today. As connected and autonomous 5G cars become mainstream, there's no telling what kind of paths to further innovation will open up.

Discover why 5G Ultra Wideband, which is available in parts of select cities, could fast-track the development of the 5G automobile and autonomous vehicle.