What it will take to commercialize 5G in automotive (Reader Forum)

The true “Smart City” is here. We are past building cars that are simply aware of their surroundings — we now can create a completely connected ecosystem where 5G has enabled vehicles to “speak” to pedestrians, to other vehicles and even to infrastructure about potential collisions or other events in real time. These capabilities are elevated even more so when you factor in autonomous vehicles, which are taking hold thanks to 5G.

In 2021, we witnessed explosive growth in 5G subscriptions. Globally, the number of 5G users worldwide went from less than 200 million in 2019 to 660 million by the end of 2021. While the previous generation of the technology was driven by mobile internet usage, growth in 5G is mainly coming from connected and autonomous cars. That comes as no surprise as 5G is the perfect technology to address the low-latency and high-throughput requirements of the new-age connected vehicles.

Still, these capabilities fail to reach consumers at scale.

We must address the challenges of commercialization and bring these connected experiences to consumers in a unified way this year. Unlocking the full value of 5G within the automotive industry will require collaboration across industries, a robust infrastructure and regulation that builds trust.

Partnerships

A strong network of partners is critical to driving innovation in telematics. To make automotive 5G mainstream, there is an urgent need for collaboration between mobile network operators, OEMs, infrastructure developers and government regulators — all working toward the singular goal of commercialization.

The magic of 5G lies in creating a completely connected experience. To do so, features, applications and services need to work together cohesively. Developing these innovations in silos will not push innovation forward and will not benefit the consumer. Instead, it will create multiple disparate solutions that are rolled out piecemeal across the industry, creating confusion and pushing back true innovation even further.

Infrastructure is key

For 5G commercialization to succeed, we need well-built and reliable infrastructure. Infrastructure roll-out was significant in 2021. According to the latest forecast by Gartner, worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenue is estimated to have grown to a total of $19.1 billion in 2021, up from $13.7 billion in 2020. Edge computing solutions like Roadside Units (RSUs) are especially important for enabling a truly connected infrastructure. By bridging the latency gap between today’s networks and 5G offered capabilities, RSUs enable real-time updates and communications between connected cars, city and town infrastructure, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. Still, there’s progress to be made. To achieve wide-scale adoption, we need to ensure wide-scale availability to all consumers.

Regulation drives trust

Fostering consumer trust and respect for 5G-infused mobility services is necessary for adoption and regulation will be important in driving that forward. This means both regulating the deployment of 5G infrastructure and its applications in smart cities. In the US, for example, the FCC is working on modernizing outdated 5G regulations to promote digital opportunity for all communities, such as through the 5G Fund for Rural America. Prioritizing standards, responsible practices and pathways for adoption will ensure solutions are rolled out effectively and limit dangers along the way that can set back innovation.

A commercialized future for 5G

5G technology is significantly more advantageous when it is scaled beyond a small ecosystem, and the automotive industry is ready to put it to the test. Imagine streets filled with vehicles that “see” blind corners and intersections, that avoid pedestrians and bicyclists, that instantly react to emergencies via 360-degree awareness of the traffic grid and that share information on unsafe road conditions with other vehicles. These features are not just a nice-to-have, but a necessity as we work to improve the safety of our streets and build smarter cities.

A commercialized 5G future also means the complete personalization of our vehicles. Beyond harnessing driver data for audience insight and monetization opportunities, automakers will soon be able to apply these insights to create highly valuable and personalized driving experiences. These personalized experiences could include connecting driver habits to make recommendations on nearby events, shopping, dining and more —along with additional automotive services, upgrades and personalized features.

Fortunately, we are seeing early signs of commercialization in the US with MEC, or multi-access edge compute. MEC platforms, like HARMAN Savari’s industry-first MECWAVE, allows data to be processed and stored closer to the user, significantly reducing latency. Think how 5G works on mobile, with minimal lag time — this should be the standard for vehicles as well. Currently, MEC is the quickest and fastest way to facilitate change in 5G access and is serving as a commercialization booster for the time being. The promise of 5G in automotive is ready to be realized, but before we can achieve a long-term synchronous 5G ecosystem at this scale, we must first expand partnerships, infrastructure and regulation. Only then will we be able to witness the true potential of 5G.

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