5G is here – and so are the tools to build next-gen services
We are long past the point of wondering whether 5G will be a transformational technology. As carriers and industries adopt 5G, it will enable entirely new technological capabilities and reshape the business models of major industries, from telecommunications to manufacturing and automotive.
At this point in time, ecosystem partners are just now coming to understand the different functionalities that modern cellular networks provide, how the various bits and pieces fit together, and how the evolution to 5G may can help evolving their own business processes and system operations. The automotive and transport infrastructure sector is a good example of how that process is playing out. Within this industry there are very different groups of communications demands:
- Critical Communications: These applications, which include automated vehicle operations, require millisecond latencies and reliable connectivity.
- Massive Communications: Typically, these involve sensors such as road traffic or road weather sensors. They have lower demands on bandwidth, but they do require networks that can scale and have extended coverage ranges. One example of a representative use case would be customer smartphone apps for authorizing the usage of rental cars in an underground garage.
The requirements for each of these two groups are so different, no single technology element could possibly cover all of them. As such, the development and deployment of corresponding 4G/5G solution elements will occur in discrete steps.
Fortunately, the 3GPP standardization body embodies a continuous innovation approach where new features and improvements are introduced with every cellular network release. That said, the debate over whether we’re using 4G LTE or 5G misses the point. What’s important isn’t the technology label, but rather the new network capabilities that become available with each release and when these capabilities become available in your target markets.
The cellular network toolbox
Modern cellular networks already provide a wide variety of tools to address widely disparate technology and business requirements. For instance, LTE Cat-M and NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) are excellent low-power sensor communication technologies that are now available. Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X), for example, is another tool that can handle ad-hoc vehicle communications where coverage is still spotty. Then there’s 4G/5G network slicing, yet another tool that enables operators to provide virtualized end-to-end networks, optimized for certain use-case groups or for industry segments, or to provide operational business separation in a public / private interplay.
The key for industry leaders and engineers is to understand which tools are most appropriate for which purpose, and how different tools can work together to provide suitable end-to-end solutions. Not all tools are hammers and not every problem is a nail! However, a certain nail might be treated with different tools to make it work.
One of the most basic questions is where organizations should start with global market introduction of new services. For instance, when it comes to C-V2X and its operation in license-free spectrum, it’s important to stay current on when various countries make corresponding spectrum available. China has already decided for C-V2X, while the US is currently re-evaluating past usage restrictions.
In the EU, the situation is more troublesome. License-free spectrum for ad-hoc communication is available. However, the EU is struggling with a technology-neutral regulation. Supported by 5GAA and GSMA, the CEOs of 24 companies (including BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Ford, Groupe PSA, Nokia, Telefonica and Vodafone) have signed a letter urging the EU to reconsider to allow for C-V2X and wide-range cellular as solution base for Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS), which we strongly believe is a more mature and flexible approach.
5G questions about interoperability and backwards compatibility
There are two additional recurring questions that I often see regarding the future of automotive and transportation. First, do we really need to wait for 5G New Radio (5G NR)? After all, nearly all of the road safety and efficiency services could be implemented using C-V2X in combination with wide-range cellular.
The short answer here is: Yes, we do! For example: With the upcoming introduction of complex vehicle maneuvering in automated driving, where groups of vehicles behave as smart clusters rather than egoistic individuals, vehicles need to share their drive intentions in rapid two-way proximity interactions, with cloud-based co-ordination assistance. This demands 5G NR characteristics.
The second question revolves around concerns about interoperability and backwards compatibility, especially giving the long lifetime of vehicles. While it’s true that 5G NR comes with a new radio wave coding that is different from LTE, it shouldn’t be a factor. 3GPP will ensure backwards compatibility at a service level, so services that work on the base of any given release will also work on subsequent releases.
5G isn’t just theoretical anymore. We’re already seeing real deployments, which will continue to grow quickly. It’s a technology that will have wide-ranging effects on many industries. But to take full advantage of its capabilities, operators and industry leaders must familiarize themselves with the tools modern cellular networks provide and understand how these tools can best be applied in end-to-end solutions.
We are just at the beginning of an exciting journey! Let’s explore the cellular tool-box together and see how it leads the way forward into a connected and automated vehicle world.