Watch out: 5G Connectivity is impacting the automotive industry

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2020 is the year of 5G. With network providers rolling out coverage, the first mainstream 5G phones being released and infrastructure being built, the new network is becoming a reality for consumers and industrial actors alike. Across industries, innovators are already hard at work setting themselves up for success and preparing for the widespread transition to 5G as well as the opportunities that come with it. A prime example of immense progression potential with 5G is the automotive industry, and it will be the cradle of some of the most notable advancements stemming from the new technology that will affect society as a whole.

But what exactly is it that 5G will enable the automotive industry to achieve?

Let’s take a short look at the 5G basics.

The 5G basics

The 5G network makes use of a much higher frequency to send its signals than that available to the 4G network. At 5G frequencies between 24 and 100GHz, also called millimetre wave, 4G, which uses frequencies between 2 and 8GHz, can barely compare. In this case, higher frequencies mean higher speeds – one of the key advantages of 5G.

Additionally, users will benefit from much lower latency. This means that lag will be almost nonexistent – a feature that is crucial for many professional purposes, for example in remote surgery or autonomous driving applications.

5G is also much more reliable than its predecessors, reaching nearly 100% reliability. This is again significant when it comes to industrial applications that can be responsible for human lives and need to drive down risk factors as low as possible.

With higher speeds, minimal lag and incredible reliability, 5G sets the stage for innovative automotive developments.

Focus: Cars

The excitement around 5G has, from the very beginning, gone hand in hand with high expectations around autonomous driving and advanced mobility. And for good reason: High uplink and downlink data rates up to 10 Mbps per device in a vehicle, very low latency of 1 ms and high network density up to 10,000 devices/km2 are just some of the enablers relating to 5G that will progress this technology.

Cars as we know them are bound to change as technologies progress, and McKinsey have identified four trends related to 5G that will ultimately drive a significant change in what we think of as cars. They are collectively known as “ACES”:

Arguably the biggest out of these is autonomous driving. Though we have seen test projects with varying success, 5G’s high network reliability and low latency represent a step towards increased safety when we think of the car of the future and the way it senses and connects to its environment. This will also lead automakers further down the path of an increased focus on software and hardware that make up a vehicle’s operating system, and less focus on conventional machinery.

Another development that will rely on 5G and this further focus on software is connectivity inside the cars of tomorrow. This will enable a wide range of use cases, among them vehicular infotainment and cooperative Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which hugely benefit from 5G advancements of average data rates between 0.5 Mbps and 15 Mbps (depending on media), dense urban mobility up to 200 km/hr as well as network density of 2,000 devices/km2.

Shared mobility, or cars routinely being used by a large amount of different users, ties in with autonomous driving. Once autonomous driving has become established, taxi companies can deploy fleets of autonomous cars that make use of all the benefits of autonomous and connected driving experiences, like route-optimisation solutions and real-time data on traffic conditions. Plus, consumers will be able to monetise their idle cars.

Lastly, electrification as the final trend will increase the amount of electric powertrains available. These aren’t just better for the environment, they also mean that cars – with the help of 5G – can perform remote operations and connect digitally.

These ACES trends don’t each exist on their own but are connected. As we’ve already begun to outline, their interplay is crucial to cars’ technological advancement. This requires large amounts of data to be processed almost instantaneously – and that’s where 5G can truly shine. As an enabler for revolutionary developments led by the ACES trends, industrial players can see its potential. For example, in Europe, the 5GCAR project is helping to develop an overall 5G system architecture, and has identified use cases that need 5G to unlock the future of transportation. These range from lane merge coordination to long range sensor sharing and increased protection for pedestrians.

Focus: Roads and Infrastructure

The automotive sector cannot exist without roads and infrastructure, and similarly all developments based on the ACES trends and enabled by 5G would be obsolete if significant innovation in this area was not achieved. Luckily, this is well underway.

Interconnected infrastructure including cameras to monitor traffic conditions, sensors that can gauge temperature and driving conditions as well as temporary road work signs will be a part of the future driving experience. With 5G, this infrastructure along with its interconnected cars can rely on average end user data rates up to 100 Mbps, latency of less than 200 ms, and dense urban mobility up to 100 km/h.

With these devices as well as advanced new cars, it will also be necessary to rely on a central intelligent traffic-management system. And again, this can be accessed through 5G.

Focus: Automotive Manufacturing

Within the manufacturing sector, it is known that 5G provides an opportunity to increase productivity, speed and efficiency. As a singular standard that the industry can adopt, projects are already in progress to be the first to benefit. Ericsson and Telefónica Germany, for instance, have teamed up to enable a private 5G network for Mercedes-Benz at the company’s Sindelfingen plant in southern Germany.

With the installation of a local 5G network, the networking of all production systems and machines in the Mercedes-Benz Cars factories will become even smarter and more efficient in the future. This opens up completely new production opportunities.

Jörg Burzer, Member of the Divisional Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain

Scaled up opportunities

With 5G, it is possible to enable network-based communication that provides high reliability, low latency and higher speeds in order to move large amounts of data. This means that, in 5G, the industry has a unique opportunity to facilitate autonomy, shared mobility, connectivity and electrification at scale. With a network fit for all the innovative ideas regarding connected cars, infrastructure and automotive factories, industry players have a blank canvas they can use to start making the automotive industry of the future a reality. And we can’t wait to see what they come up with.

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