How 5G Will Transform Road Traffic

Article By : Leo Gergs

By bringing cellular connectivity into the car, 5G will increase the safety of road traffic and open the door for the next level of autonomous driving.

As the saying goes, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” To underline this, think back to science fiction movies from 30 or 40 years ago: While they predicted we would all travel around in flying cars by 2000, we have to realize that even in 2020, cars still require wheels, a road to drive on, and human attention behind the steering wheel to operate them — until now. By bringing cellular connectivity into the car (referred to as cellular vehicle-to-everything, or C-V2X), 5G will increase the safety of road traffic and open the door for the next level of fully autonomous driving through connected car use cases. Recent forecasts show that by 2035, we will see a total of 107 million cellularly connected cars on the road (83 million utilizing 5G NR-V2X).
C-V2X (inlcluding 5G NR) equipped cars sales - ABI Research

C-V2X equipped car sales 2023–2035 (Source: Intelligent Transportation Data, Worldwide, ABI Research)

C-V2X: What are we talking about? C-V2X serves as an umbrella term for a range of different connections:
  • Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I): The connection between the car and different parts of the public infrastructure
  • Vehicle-to-network (V2N): The ability of a car to connect to the cellular network infrastructure
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P): The connectivity between a car and a pedestrian or other road user not in possession of a connected vehicle, by connecting to her/his mobile phone
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V): The connection between two or more vehicles directly, without having to rely on the existence of an external network infrastructure

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What will 5G offer to enhance safety and security on the road? There are three key capabilities that fifth-generation cellular connectivity will bring to cars; each of these are standardized in so-called releases by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP):
  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB): One of the critical components of 5G connectivity is the increased bandwidth that it offers. Guaranteeing a bandwidth of 10 Gbits/s in the uplink and 20 Gbits/s in the downlink will enhance data-intensive files (such as video footage). Relevant standardization work for eMBB has been completed with 3GPP’s Release 15 (frozen in 2019).
  • Ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC): Most importantly for the application in connected car use cases is the fact that 5G guarantees a particularly fast transmission of data (with latencies below 10 ms) as well as a particularly reliable network connection. URLLC capabilities have been standardized in 3GPP’s Release 16 (frozen in early July 2020).
  • Massive machine-type communication (mMTC): Furthermore, 5G will allow connecting to 1 million devices (such as sensors or cameras) per square kilometer with each other. Considering the average car can be equipped with a total of 10 cameras and sensors, this would mean that in the exemplary case of a traffic jam with 100 vehicles, 1,000 sensors would need to be connected. Relevant standardization work is expected to be completed with 3GPP’s Release 17 (currently scheduled for late 2021).
Furthermore, the introduction of multi-access edge computing (MEC) capabilities will allow the processing of non-real-time data to move out of the car into an edge cloud. This will free up processing capabilities within the vehicle for more time-sensitive, mission-critical data needed for more complex traffic scenarios. Improvements in long-range communication (distances greater than 1 km) will allow a moving car to connect to different back ends. This will enable a moving car that experiences different network conditions to adapt its quality of service (QoS) requirements according to the network performance. An autonomous car, for example, could lower its speed once it enters an area of inadequate network coverage. Enhanced methods for statistic network performance prediction will enable an autonomous car to regulate its speed preemptively, before entering an area where poor network coverage is expected. 5G applications in the automotive domain Adopting the industry-wide classification of Day 1 (safety-related), Day 2 (sensor sharing), and Day 3 (maneuver alignments) applications, 5G offers capabilities, particularly for sensor-sharing and maneuver-alignments use cases. Enhanced on-board entertainment By guaranteeing particularly high data throughputs, 5G has the potential to equip cars with particularly data-rich information and entertainment (in short, infotainment) opportunities, such as video streaming, enhanced gaming experiences, and augmented-reality–enriched navigation opportunities. Because the necessary capabilities for eMBB have already been standardized with 3GPP’s Release 15 (deployed in three distinct drops in 2019), bringing on-board infotainment capabilities to the car presents a more immediately reliable revenue opportunity for the telco industry. Cooperative maneuver Based on the principle of sharing local awareness and driving intentions, the driving trajectory of a considered group of vehicles can be coordinated to improve overall traffic safety and efficiency. Furthermore, benefits would increase driving comfort (due to smoother maneuvering) and reduce emissions and fuel consumption. Specific use cases include, for example, lane-merging scenarios. A vehicle wanting to merge from one lane into another (“main”) lane shares its positioning as well as driving-intentions data with the cars in the “main” lane. In a logistics context, this concept can link two or more trucks in convoy with the help of automated driving support systems. The truck at the head of the platoon acts as the leader, while the vehicles behind it react and adapt to changes in its movement. By coordinating traffic movements, estimates suggest that this could decrease fuel consumption within the fleet by 30%. Cooperative perception While cooperative maneuvering rests on the coordination of positioning data between different vehicles, cooperative perception is the exchange of data from various other sources (such as sensors or cameras), which is then shared among all vehicles in a vicinity. This principle can be applied, for example, to a scenario often referred to as the transparent car to overcome visibility limitations of a subject vehicle caused by another vehicle driving in front of the subject. Once the rear vehicle wants to initiate a particular traffic maneuver (overtaking, for example), the front-driving car starts to transmit all its sensor and video data to the rear-moving vehicle, becoming “transparent” to the subject vehicle. Autonomous navigation To provide the basis for optimal route selection for semi- and fully automated vehicles, a high-definition map, aggregated with real-time data (gathered through cooperative perception), can be provided to all vehicles in a predefined vicinity. Giving them this real-time traffic information would result in a more efficient way of organizing traffic (i.e., reducing time spent in traffic, as well as cutting emissions and fuel consumption). Furthermore, it would increase driving comfort for both vehicle drivers as well as passengers. Remote driving By combining the opportunity to transmit data-intensive video footage with low latencies and high network reliability guaranteed by URLLC, 5G connectivity opens the door for remote driving applications. While in the context of road traffic, full remote driving might be interesting only for very specific use cases (like remote parking), 5G connectivity will enhance advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) through proving cooperative maneuvering and cooperative perception capabilities. Because remote driving applications are highly critical systems, the requirements regarding safety are exceptionally high, requiring extremely low latencies (below 10 ms) and the service’s reliability as close to 100% as possible. These demanding requirements could not be met by either DSRC or an LTE-based technology.
5G automotive use cases - ABI Research

Requirements for different automotive use cases (Source: ABI Research)

What does it take to realize these benefits? For 5G to unleash its beneficial impact for connected car and ADAS use cases, it is important to target a particularly high penetration rate. To illustrate, consider a scenario of 10% of cars using V2X technology. The likelihood of two V2X connected cars meeting each other under these circumstances would be 0.1 × 0.1 = 0.01 = >1%. If 50% of cars were equipped with V2X technology, this would increase to 25%. Therefore, public authorities and transportation infrastructure owners need to realize their responsibility to fund the installation of cellular networks and enable the widespread deployment of C-V2X to make road traffic safer and greener. First and foremost, fostering the adoption of cellular connectivity in cars needs a demand driver to justify the investment for C-V2X deployments. In this context, public authorities should acknowledge enhancing traffic security as a public duty and shoulder necessary investment. Because connected car technology will bring enhanced security to roads and, therefore, decrease injuries and traffic-related deaths, it will relieve the health-care system. Secondly, it needs an international strategy to harmonize spectrum to be used for intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Recent developments around the FCC’s decision to open the 5.9-GHz frequency for C-V2X technology is a first step in the right direction, but other regulators will need to follow. — Leo Gergs is a rsearch analyst at,ABI Research

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