The proliferation of smart autonomous cars in the coming years will require a new approach to wireless data. According to Intel, these vehicles will process 4,000 gigabytes of data per day, the equivalent of 2,666 daily internet users. Each component of a car, ranging from its sonar, radar, GPS, cameras and Pandora account, adds to the overall data requirements. While autonomous cars are the future of transportation, improving public safety and mitigating traffic, these vehicles will create the equivalent of a year’s worth of typical internet user data every few hours. Today’s wireless connections won’t be able to keep up.
5G can only stem the tide
Today, it could take 230 days to transfer a week’s worth of data from a self-driving car. This is obviously not optimal when it comes to transferring important data, such as preventative maintenance, and impossible to be effective when it comes to more immediate data, like the location of a car that was just in an accident. 5G connectivity has the potential to solve for some of these issues, offering low-latency data transmission for a robust data set. This should mean that urgent data should largely be handled by 5G.
A recent Ericsson report implied that nearly half of all U.S. mobile traffic will be handled by 5G by 2023. The company obviously has its finger on the pulse of the market, but that means half of mobile data generated won’t be handled via 5G. And this latter half will still need to overcome many of the issues that exist in today’s networks, such as a need to solve for the last mile and limitations on network density. Today, a car driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas will not have connectivity the entire trip through the desert — a popular drive that’s almost always had a coverage gap. This gap needs an overcoming technology for the ultimate realization of smart cars in the market.
There are three things carriers can do to mitigate the risk of lack of connectivity:
- Maintain/increase network diversity. While each of the mobile carriers are aggressively rolling out 5G, it is important to realize that important data will still be sent via alternative networks. This might mean LTE, or even 3G, will continue to be used. Every band of spectrum has specific qualities that make it stronger for certain use cases. Bands that are lower on the spectrum can carry a great distance, but often lack the ability to carry robust data. That makes them perfect for use cases like sending information, such as “all clear” notices, to a smart car manufacturer.
- Collaborate with automakers. Telecom companies will need to work in lockstep with auto manufacturers to identify which data will be mission critical, from emergency situations to over-the-air upgrades. Collaboration up front, and throughout the vehicle lifecycle, can be critical. For instance, automotive companies may identify multiple types of OS upgrades. This might be one type of update that has improved safety functionality and another that includes a new light dimmer. With this information, carriers will be able to prioritize which data is sent via 5G and which can be sent via a slower network connection.
- Use P2P data models. In enterprise settings, the LAA and CBRS bands are gaining usage as a way for companies to improve connectivity for their employees. However, very little driving takes place indoors, meaning that these bands are generally available for specific use cases outdoor. As part of their collaboration with automakers, telecom providers can share and use best practices for these innovation bands, creating a seamless network infrastructure for the proper relay of information between vehicles, carriers and manufacturers with the vehicle-to-everything (V2X) model.
By 2025, automated cars will create a $25 billion industry for those involved. Companies such as Waymo, Uber and Lyft are rolling out testing throughout the country, but will ultimately only be successful if mobile carriers are able to meet the data capacity demands these vehicles create. As such, it is critical that carriers maintain a diverse network and work with auto manufacturers to see this market reach its destination.
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