What will stop these self-driving trucks collide?

Scania

What impact could 5G – the new high-speed mobile broadband, the technology of testing in the world – on the way we work and play?

Swedish transportation company Scania believes that the trucks can use a lot less fuel if they went much closer together, controlled by wireless communication of the on-board computers.

But to avoid these “platooning” trucks crashing into each other, you’d better be sure that your communications are fast and reliable.

Therefore, Scania is working with Ericsson on testing of the new 5G (fifth generation) wireless broadband technology, is expected to be implemented globally in 2020.

It promises much faster data transfer speeds, greater coverage and a more efficient use of the spectrum bandwidth.

“Platooning works very well with wi-fi, but in situations of heavy traffic with many vehicles, the communications, the 5G is designed to provide the most reliable communication”, explains Andreas hoglund, Scania, principal engineer intelligent transport systems.

This is because the direct communication between the devices or vehicles in this case, does not have to go to a base-station with 5G, as it currently does using wi-fi, ” he said.

“Faster communication, it will be possible to reduce the distance between the vehicles in the platoon, which could further reduce air drag and give positive effects on fuel consumption,” he explains.

This could help in creating a “more efficient, more environmentally friendly,” in the world.

5G is designed to accommodate the growing number of devices that depend on a mobile internet connection – fridges to cars – and is 10 times faster than the highest speed that the 4G can handle.

“It will enable many applications that have been unthinkable before,” says Mischa Dohler, professor in wireless communications at King’s College London.

South Korea has plans to implement 5G for the Olympic Winter games in February 2018, giving visitors access to the virtual reality (VR) content on their mobile.

One of the UK’s first 5G test bed is at Brighton, where the non-profit innovation hub, Digital Catapult Centre, has just completed a series of workshops for small businesses.

“In theory, 5G is fast enough to download a 100GB 4K movie in two-and-a-half-minutes,” said Richard Scott, director of Digital innovation at the Catapult.

“But it is not just a question of speed – [5G], has specific characteristics that can be used to unlock and enable new technologies.”

Most importantly, they understand less and less connection loss and low latency – the time it takes for the data to be stored or retrieved.More Technology of Business

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“Wi-fi is very good if you’re sitting with a few people in a meeting, or moving slowly around on the inside,” says Rahim Tafazolli, head of Surrey University’s 5G Innovation Centre.

“However, once you start to move quickly and the number of people increases by more than 10 to Waterloo Station, for example – you need a system that can replace the connection between the radio cells without causing a drop in signal, and which can accommodate several people at the same time.

“The Wi-fi can’t do that.”

This is because each wi-fi signal has a range defined, so that the 5G will be flexible, allowing mobile devices to switch automatically between the various newly-available spectrum.

A frequency of connections, through rural areas, for example; one for urban environments, offering a high number of users with a high-speed connection; and there is also a high-capacity spectrum in highly populated areas, such as sports stadiums and railway terminals.

This flexibility will lead to “a wide range of new business services”, Mr. Tafazolli believes it, and that could be critical for the success of autonomous vehicles and the internet of things.

Faster wireless connectivity should also give the virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) technologies a boost, argues Digital Catapult Mr. Scott.

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“If you have a very detailed, immersive VR experience, and you try to run it on a mobile headset currently, there is enough time lag… it makes you feel sick,” he says.

So high-quality VR experiences are based on the helmets to be “attached” to a computer, which provides the necessary computing power.

5G offers the possibility to re-create high-quality experiences on the motion.

“It could allow you to have a comparable experience with the home games on your mobile,” said Mr. Scott, “allowing you to compete or collaborate with other people in real time.”

Andy Cummins of Brighton digital agency Cogapp, says 5G will enable his company to create a much more exciting AR and VR content for visitors to museums and galleries.

“Without [5G] these types of experiences… at best, seem to be laggy and not intuitive,” he said.

And Tim Fleming, founder of the Future Visual, another Brighton company preparing to test 5G, said: “We are very interested in in-store retail VR experiences, and the creation of a flagship VR experience that can be taken to any location.

“At the present time, we have to use a dedicated PC, but with 5G, you just need a headset and a mobile device. The bulk of the work is done in the cloud. It is very interesting.”

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Of course, 5G roll-out is not without its technical challenges.

The installation of all base stations and antennas is very expensive, and a lot of devices today will not be compatible with the new technology.

It is not clear who will pay for it.

But Ericsson’s head of 5G of marketing, Thomas Noren, is convinced that 5G services will be cheaper to run because the network will be more energy efficient and the production and operating costs will be lower.

There are obviously still many details to settle, but the research consultancy Ovum predicts that there will be 389 million of 5G subscriptions in the world by the end of 2022.

Users still grappling with the uneven coverage 4G can be forgiven for being a little sceptical about the ambitious claims for the 5G.

But the potential to transform a number of businesses and create many new ones – is clearly there.Follow the Company’s Technology editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
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