April 2019:

The 5G/AV Connection

5G will change the world, hastening the era of autonomous vehicles … or will it?

5G will have a massive, game-changing impact on our society, some profess. Others scoff and say: Prove it. Today’s connected world is experiencing change on almost every level thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things). IoT-enabled connectivity is turning objects—people, places, machines, and devices—into “smart” objects that can sense the world around them, share and/or interpret decision-enhancing data, and even act autonomously based on this data.

5G, the latest generation of cellular mobile communications, could be a key enabler of the world connected globally. Tremendous growth in the 5G services market is expected in the next decade thanks to a growing demand for reliable and ultra-low-latency connectivity services.

MarketsandMarkets forecasts the 5G services market will reach about $54 billion in 2020 and surpass $123 billion by 2025. Gartner says 66% of organizations plan to deploy 5G by 2020, citing operational efficiency and the need to support IoT communications and video as key drivers for adoption.

High-speed wireless networks could enable new models for healthcare, smart cities, and transportation, to name just a few, fueling economic growth in these areas and others. Consider, for example, a report by Accenture that suggests 5G economic impacts in the U.S. could include $275 billion worth of investments in infrastructure, up to 3 million new jobs, and a $500 billion boost to the GDP (gross domestic product).

Self-driving vehicles are one pillar of a universally connected society, and AVs (autonomous vehicles) are frequently included in the list of ways 5G will impact society. In fact, Chris Penrose, AT&T president, IoT Solutions says, “Self-driving cars and 5G will ultimately usher new opportunities for in-vehicle entertainment and engagement when drivers have more time on their hands.”

He adds, “One of the most exciting aspects of automated vehicles is their ability to learn from other vehicles’ driving experiences in ways that human drivers simply cannot.” He continues, “5G will ultimately help create faster and more efficient exchange of this data, allowing automated vehicles to distribute and receive data and function even better.”

But will 5G really be necessary for an autonomous future? The answer can be hard to pin down, especially when some industry experts say yes and some simply say no. When it comes to AVs, it’s pretty universally agreed that this technology will change the nature of transportation. If 5G will play a role in the coming age of autonomy, it may be later rather than sooner.

5G Will Change the World

The current era has many names meant to place it and the massive connectivity-driven changes underway into historical context. For instance, industrial automation and related technologies have led to what many believe to be the fourth industrial revolution—a transformational shift in how industrial businesses operate.

Toby Redshaw, senior vice president of technology strategy and innovation at Verizon, says 5G’s characteristics and capabilities, including low latency, high speed, optimization, and greater bandwidth are the flywheels behind this transformation. “5G will enable things like autonomous vehicles, industrial robotics, and remote medicine,” he says. “It will power solutions to transform supply-chain management and create smarter, more efficient manufacturing.”

Redshaw points to the healthcare industry and manufacturing as examples. “The healthcare industry will definitely undergo a step change with 5G,” he explains. “5G will enable things like telemedicine, remote robotic surgery, and remote physical therapy. Consider a stroke victim having direct access to the best therapist thousands of miles away and doing shared exercises in a virtual space using AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). 5G will allow doctors and first responders to get data-intensive information—like full-body scans or building plans—in seconds.”

AT&T’s Penrose explains, “5G networks will not only further connectivity, but 5G’s lower latency will also play an important role in improving patient care and providing a better experience. For example, remote patient monitoring on a lower latency 5G network means the ability to respond faster to changes in patients’ vital signs. Additionally, it could help reduce costs with common devices across the healthcare system. Plus, an integrated network can improve care.”

Similarly, in manufacturing, Verizon’s Redshaw says 5G’s low latency and edge intelligence will create a step function for industrial automation, efficiency, and cycle time. He says 5G will also help make the concept of realtime enterprise a reality, connecting seas of IoT sensors to provide realtime intelligence.

5G Economic Impacts


$275 Billion

Jobs Created

3 Million

GDP Growth

$500 Billion

Source: Accenture 5G Report.

Redshaw also believes 5G will be necessary to reach the full promise of autonomous vehicles and infrastructure. “Vehicle autonomy will require a layered approach to connectivity, intelligence, and security, whether that is in autonomous cars or smart mobile manufacturing or warehouse robotics,” he explains. “5G will be a key part of this not only making the vehicle or fleet more intelligent but also enabling it to connect to more intelligent surroundings. The integration of other IoT-tagged fixed infrastructure and mobility entities will create an array of new opportunities.”

To cite specifics, Redshaw says 4G LTE (long-term evolution) networks currently offer latency around 40-50 milliseconds, but with 5G, latency will eventually be sub-10 milliseconds round trip—faster than the blink of an eye. This will be vital for autonomous mobility of all kinds, according to Redshaw, as will 5G-connected cameras and their ability to help reduce auto collisions.

For the full results from this chart, see 5G Americas White Paper here.
Source: 5G Americas White Paper.

Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, an industry trade organization, agrees with the idea that 5G has the potential to be transformational. “With 5G, connectivity could be ubiquitous around us all, leading to new innovations that can affect the way we live and play,” he says. “3G and 4G led to great applications, services, and new companies. 5G can be a much more transformative wireless technology leading to an even bigger and better innovation cycle.”

Pearson says 5G connectivity can be a key enabler for the autonomous automobile of the future, while admitting that some won’t agree with him. “With 5G V2X (vehicle-to-everything), critical information can be exchanged with faster throughputs and lower latency among vehicles to improve situation awareness and thus avoid accidents,” he adds. “Furthermore, LTE and 5G V2X provides reliable access to the vast information available in the cloud. For example, realtime traffic, sensor, and high-definition mapping data can be made available, which will be essential for navigating self-driving vehicles in the future.”

5G services market will reach about $54 billion in 2020 and surpass $123 billion by 2025

Pearson says 5G connectivity can be a key enabler for the autonomous automobile of the future, while admitting that some won’t agree with him. “With 5G V2X (vehicle-to-everything), critical information can be exchanged with faster throughputs and lower latency among vehicles to improve situation awareness and thus avoid accidents,” he adds. “Furthermore, LTE and 5G V2X provides reliable access to the vast information available in the cloud. For example, realtime traffic, sensor, and high-definition mapping data can be made available, which will be essential for navigating self-driving vehicles in the future.”

Those in the industry with vested interests in 5G aren’t the only ones saying it will change everything, including self-driving cars. Alex Wyglinski, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says with the advent of 5G technology, society will be heralding in a new transformative period: the connectivity age. “With 5G technology, everything that surrounds us will be connected with each other, seamlessly sharing information and performing coordinated tasks, services, and applications designed to enhance our quality of life across many different sectors, such as education, commerce, transportation, national defense and security, healthcare, entertainment, and so much more,” he says.

Regarding AVs, Wyglinski says 5G technology will make it more possible for vehicles to communicate with each other with minimal delay, sharing important information in a way that enhances the vehicles’ situational awareness and improves road safety. “The entire premise of the autonomous vehicle operating reliably and safely is that it has complete situational awareness of its environment from which it can make appropriate driving decisions,” he says. “Up until now, autonomous vehicles have been obtaining this situational awareness of their driving environment from various forms of sensing technology, such as LIDAR, RADAR, and vision systems. However, these systems are limited in what they can see around them and lack the ability to see around street corners or behind vehicles in front of them. As a result, the evolution of autonomous vehicles has started to reach a plateau in terms of reliability and safety due to their limited knowledge of the surrounding environment.”

With 5G, however, Wyglinski says AVs will be capable of communicating with each other and with roadside infrastructure to obtain a more accurate and instantaneous picture of the driving environment, which will translate into more appropriate driving decisions. He says: “Autonomous vehicles using wireless technologies such as 5G is a must if they are to produce safe and reliable driving environments.” But is 5G truly necessary for an autonomous future? Some don’t see it that way.

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… Or Will It?

William Webb, director of Webb Search, CEO of Weightless SIG, and president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy, wrote a book called The 5G Myth, which argues that the advantages offered by 5G are not valued by consumers, so operators will not see any revenue growth from 5G. As a result, the incentive to invest is weak.

Webb says the biggest impact society should expect from 5G is its ability to deliver more capacity into networks. “The industry hype around 5G has been overwhelming and ridiculous,” he says. “I suspect that the biggest impact might be on the cellular industry; the difficulty in making a business case for the deployment of 5G will encourage mobile operators to merge—where allowed by regulators—to look more towards wholesale models and network sharing approaches and to behave more like utilities.”

Asked whether 5G connectivity is necessary for an autonomous future, Webb replies no. “They are called ‘autonomous’ because they are autonomous,” he explains. “No autonomous car can be reliant on 5G or even mobile.

It would get to a tunnel, lose coverage, stop, and sit there for 10 years until coverage is delivered. Clearly that’s nonsensical. So, it must work just fine without coverage. If it can do that, why does it need coverage? And connectivity is a security risk; better to keep all self-driving under the control of the car. Some vehicle-to-vehicle signally is helpful, but that’s not 5G, (it’s) just a short-range wireless link in the car.”

“The industry hype around 5G has been overwhelming and ridiculous.” –William Webb, University of Cambridge

Bill Menezes, a senior principal analyst at Gartner, similarly suggests the biggest near-term impacts of 5G will be on the cellular carriers themselves, and to a certain extent their wireline competitors. “Initially, (5G) will give the cellular companies more capability to compete for customers that the cable companies now own, but selling broadband internet access,” he says. “Beyond that initial mass market offering, all of the other 5G use cases the carriers currently like to highlight—autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, smart city infrastructure—are well into the future given how long we expect it to take for widespread 5G coverage to occur.”

Menezes says onboard computing and 4G connectivity can support much of what autonomous vehicles need for realtime control. “5G could enable new capabilities that require its superior latency and faster data throughput, but those will require near-pervasive coverage in a vehicle’s operating area,” he adds, which won’t be possible for many years.

Eventually, though, 5G may make a difference for AVs. “I think (5G) is necessary for an autonomous future where the proliferation of mobile endpoints necessary to support autonomous operation—including sensors, controls, etc.—will mandate the network capacity and endpoint density that 5G provides,” Menezes explains. “The big hurdle to that future will be coverage more than network capabilities per se. Autonomous vehicles utilizing 4G connectivity are being tested now, but once there are hundreds of thousands or millions of them on the road, they will need 5G’s network capacity and ability to support massive numbers of endpoints.”

Flowchart of the agent-based model for trip generation

Send car request

Coordinates origin
Coordinates destination
Car preference

Receive assignment

Car code
Action: Wait or
walk to car

Ride the car

Travel time
Travel distance

Drop-off at destination

For the full results from this chart, see CPD report here.
Source: Corporate Partnership Board Report, Urban Mobility System Upgrade, March 28, 2018.

Gartner doesn’t expect widespread 5G commercial coverage in the U.S. before 2020, and in less developed markets, it could be a decade or more before 5G is widely available. “If cellular service providers want to characterize 5G as a ‘game changer’, they need to prove it,” Menezes concludes. “New product features such as network performance SLAs (service-level agreements), more flexible service plans, and more granular network coverage information would be a good start.”

Kara Kockelman, professor of transportation engineering in the Dept. of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, provides an apt summary when she says connectivity, and thus 5G, is not necessary for automation, but such communication plus automation provides valuable synergies. “5G has tremendous bandwidth for more than basic safety messages, which communicate one’s position, direction, speed, and acceleration,” she says. “So 5G can help ensure that complex safety messages, intersection-use guidance, and other details are relayed and heard more quickly and fully by cellphones or built-in devices in human-driven vehicles and by computers and sensors in self-driving vehicles.”

The question of when is one that’s often asked in both the 5G and AV discussions. For AVs, Kockelman says vehicle supply will be a major constraint, since the technology is difficult to provide and manufacturers’ assembly lines will need important shifts. For 5G, the University of Cambridge’s Webb says a business case for widespread deployment is needed and remains elusive. “As a result,” he says, “we’ll see limited 5G deployment in cities from 2020 onward, but extensive 5G coverage may take 5-10 years.”

Verizon’s Redshaw and 5G Americas’ Pearson are confident that the 5G era has already begun, at least in the U.S. For instance, The Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Wyglinski says while there has been progress made with respect to 5G smartphones and devices connected to a cellular base station, the part of 5G technology that everyone is looking forward to—namely, IoT connectivity—will still take some time, possibly another five years, before it is mature enough to be deployed commercially.

AT&T’s Penrose is also confident the next generation network will help enable the handling and management of the upcoming “massive IoT” explosion. He says it will create new opportunities to connect and transform businesses across nearly every industry.

“We are truly living in exciting times,” Wyglinski says. “The potential of 5G technology to change the way we interact with our environment and each other, such as autonomous vehicles and smart cities, will be equally or even more dramatic (as) when the first automobiles were made commercially available to the public. I see ourselves living in a society 10 years from now that will look nothing like today.”

It’s an exciting picture indeed, but it’s possible that AVs won’t be that big a part of the 5G story in hindsight. “If there is in fact a life-changing impact from 5G, history tells us it likely will be in something that nobody has yet anticipated,” says Gartner’s Menezes. “Remember that while 3G provided a big jump in data speeds from 2G, the real impact came from the introduction of the smartphone that could take advantage of those speeds. Likewise for 4G, the big impact arguably came from continuing improvement in the smartphone and from the new platforms such as social media and video aggregation (e.g., Netflix, YouTube) that the network technology made usable to the huge mobile consumer market.”

If Menezes is correct, the question of whether 5G will hasten the era of autonomous vehicles or have little impact at all will be a moot point. Instead, the question will be what opportunities will 5G create that nobody’s even thinking about?

January 29, 2019

Peggy and Maria Lensing, vice president, Healthcare Solutions, AT&T Business, sit down for a candid conversation about digital health and how the industry is moving toward a digital transformation. They discuss challenges, benefits, and what’s coming next in this vertical market. They also dive into the topic of how 5G will impact the healthcare industry in the coming years.

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