5G is here – and maybe it’s time to buy a new car!

Demo board of ST's lithium battery charger solution

Go to any auto show and you can’t help but notice how automakers love to slap labels on their products. The reason is simple – by showcasing their cars’ innovative new selling points, they want to send out a clear message that it’s time to buy a new car.

The label that created the most buzz during the recent 2018 Auto Shanghai was without a doubt the ‘5G car’. Concurrently, news about automakers, telecom operators and equipment manufacturers collaborating on 5G cars was all over the Internet. You could have been forgiven for asking yourself – is this is an auto show or a telecom show?

It is no coincidence that more and more automakers have been taking part in the annual telecom global event, MWC Barcelona. Geely Auto, for example, announced its 5G car mass production plan during this year’s event. While in fact crossovers between the telecom and automobile industries have been happening for a long time, 5G has taken the partnership between the two industries to a whole new level.

When cars meet 5G

When you think about it, 2G, 3G and 4G fulfilled the task of connecting people anytime and anywhere. Today, the mission of 5G is to create the ‘Internet of Everything’, drastically expanding the scale of the Internet in the process. As one of our most valuable possessions, it is inevitable that cars will join the network. Furthermore, 5G offers a suite of powerful benefits: high speed (50-100 times the speed of 4G), low latency (lower than 1 ms), and extensive connectivity (1 million connections in 1 km2). It’s amazing news for cars.

Meanwhile, cars have also continued to evolve. They are no longer simple means of transportation, but have acquired new ‘personas’ as they have become electric, smart, connected and shared. These four developments are essentially enabled by data. Intel estimates that, in the future, self-driving cars will require 0.75 GB of data per second and will use about 4,000 GB per day. This means that the cars of the future of will not only consume fuel, but also data. Data consumption will determine user experience and even driving safety. It is not far-fetched to say that cars will oneday become moving data centers.

Everyone knows that the value of data can only be maximized through connections, and this is precisely what 5G makes possible. Even though the concept of the ‘Internet of Vehicles’ precedes it, 5G has slowly but surely been acknowledged as the ultimate solution in the Internet of Vehicles. It was only a matter of time before cars and 5G hooked up.

Furthermore, the rush to promote ‘5G cars’ picked up speed because the business model for 2G, 3G and 4G is not entirely applicable to 5G because of its different ‘mission’. Conventional telecom operators urgently need to find new application scenarios in order to profit from the ‘Internet of Everything’. Players other than telecom operators, including automakers, are all trying to get a slice of the pie before the value chain is established. The increased investment in 5G cars, by a diverse range of companies, confirms it.

Minister Miao Wei, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the Chinese government, summed up the market situaton during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2019. “Self-driving cars may be the earliest application scenario of 5G technologies, and the Internet of Vehicles may be the largest application market of 5G,” he said.

In short, industry demand, government endorsement and corporate efforts will jointly contribute to the booming market for 5G cars.

The shape of cars to come

Even though there have been many conversations and much speculation about the transformation of automotive products in the 5G era, let’s recap the most imminent of the changes to come.

Self-driving cars

What most people are referring to when they talk about ‘self-driving cars’ are actually self-driving individual vehicles with smart closed loop control systems, enabled by a series of sensing, decision-making and execution technologies. True self-driving cars go one step further by seamlessly integrating individual vehicles with the Internet of Vehicles in a system known as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication. This breakthrough system enables informed and safe ‘decisions’ and maneuvers to made on the basis of shared data of vehicles, traffic infrastructure and pedestrians.

In the past, the greatest barrier towards achieving V2X based on a cellular mobile network (C-V2X) was network latency. For example, V2X based on LTE has a latency of 50-100 ms, meaning that the braking distance at high speeds is measured in meters. In theory, 5G can achieve latency of 1 ms; braking distance could be reduced to centimeters. This capability of 5G perfectly meets the inelastic demand of self-driving cars. Considering the extensive promotion of 5G-based V2X commercial applications by industry organizations such as the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), it is only a matter of time before the theory becomes practice.

In-vehicle infotainment

In-vehicle infotainment systems are the first auto parts that require Internet access. Once 5G begins operation, the most direct way people will experience the value of 5G may be, for instance, the ability to instantly download HD movies. Of course, the possibilities enabled by 5G far exceed mere movie downloads. The combination of the following functions will highly differentiate future in-vehicle infotainment systems:

  • Multi-display will become a trend for in-vehicle infotainment systems. Especially when auto-pilot frees up the user’s hands and eyes, enjoying content enabled by 5G will become an essential part of the driving experience.
  • 5G will also enable VR/AR and other applications that use large amounts of data to enter vehicles. Just imagine the possibilities…
  • AI applications such as virtual assistants will become a more standard part of the driving experience. They will also provide seamless cloud services in vehicles.
  • HD navigation will be viable. Every vehicle could contribute to maps by sending real-time data of traffic conditions to the cloud through 5G.

Vehicle use and maintenance

The harsh reality is that 5G may force 4S shops out of business. For example, in-vehicle sensors will record the operation of key parts in vehicles, and send the data to 4S shops or automakers through 5G for monitoring and analysis. Hence, future maintenance and repairs will be based on needs instead of mileage or time. The new 5G-based Internet of Things will modify the business models with which we are familiar, and redefine the relationships between users, automakers and after-sales service providers.

Just imagine. If vehicle data could be shared more extensively through 5G, with insurance companies for example, then it would have a profound effect on product design, sales, vehicle inspections and insurance claims processes. In fact, many tech-forward insurance companies are already contemplating the possibility of harnessing 5G technology for those very purposes.

Looking a little further into the future, ask yourself – will you even need your own car? 5G will take sharing to a whole new level, and may revolutionize the way we have viewed cars for over a century.

Data shows that 5G will generate over US$2.4 trillion in turnover for the auto industry, supply chain, and customers by 2035, accounting for one fifth of 5G’s expected global economic impact. ‘Cars transformed by 5G’ will inevitably become a reality. Clearly, 5G is here to stay. Besides switching to a 5G smartphone, maybe it’s time to also consider switching to a 5G car.




Related Articles

Powering the future—the hidden heroes of electric vehicle technologies

The automobile industry in Mainland China has developed at an unimaginably rapid pace in recent year...

Mastering the road ahead

The market demand for Advanced Driver Assistant Systems (ADAS) has increased by leaps and bounds. In...

Unreliable autonomous driving? Take a look at how difficult vehicle-mounted vision processing is

We all have high expectations for autonomous driving, a fact that’s exemplified by the display of au...