Autonomous cars are gaining ground and becoming closer to reality with every single day. If their makers’ ambitions live up to the expectations, there will be thousands and thousands of connected vehicles on the road in just a few years. All of that data will be vital for the proper operation of the self-driving cars. This is where 5G steps in.
Connected cars will transfer quite a vast amount of data. While most of the processing will be done onboard, they will still share a lot of data with servers and respectively receive a lot, too. Intel has forecast that autonomous cars will consume about 40TB of data for every 8 hours of driving. On average, each autonomous car will use 4TB per day. For comparison, each person’s entire daily online activity is currently less than 1GB and is expected to reach 1.5GB per day by 2020.
New technologies, new challenges
One of the main reasons for the massive data usage and generation of connected cars is the C-V2X (Cellular-vehicle-to-everything) technology. It’s basically a peer-to-peer wireless tech which connects cars, sensors, traffic lights and everything else you can imagine into one giant network. All of the devices on that network constantly exchange information and warn each other about obstacles, incidents, the weather, even near real-time warnings about pedestrians and many more.
Pretty much all major car manufacturers are already members of the 5G Automotive Association which helps them develop C-V2X. Some are focusing on a competing project called DSRC (Dedicated short-range communications), but the idea is basically the same. Both technologies need a very fast and stable network. That network must also be able to endure very high average loads and even higher peak loads.
5G to the rescue
This is where 5G should shine. While there are still final details to iron out, most of the major specifications are now finalized. Analysts expect 5G networks to be up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE, boast much less lag, be able to support multiple users and use a wider radio spectrum.
“When we get to 5G, you’ll be able to know when a vehicle far ahead of you intends to change lanes or starts to brake even if it’s beyond your line of sight. There could even be special lanes where autonomous vehicles are allowed to travel really fast because they’re able to share information about incoming and outgoing traffic at great speed”, says Nakul Duggal, Qualcomm’s vice president of product management to MIT Technology Review.
Of course, expectations are one thing, while the real world would be quite different. Most telecoms, for example, never really reached the promised 10x up in speed when they started using LTE instead of 3G HSPA+. In the real world, the average speed boost was between 2 to 3 times. So, in the real world 5G probably won’t be 100 times faster than LTE. But even if it’s just 10 times faster, it would still be quite the improvement.
Considering that there are calls to create C-V2X devices which you can add to regular cars, so their drivers can also get alerts, every bit of improvement to the networks will be much, much needed.